Aging independently in one’s home is top priority for many seniors, fueling a trend that’s not likely to dissipate anytime soon. Vital to the success of this choice is ensuring the environment is safe not only in terms of maximizing autonomy and minimizing fall risk but also in the event of fire, natural disasters, and power outages.
We spoke with Cynthia Shaw, a Communications Director for the American Red Cross around what safety measures seniors living at home can take to avoid an in-home fire and prepare for the event of a natural disaster.
Fire in the Home Environment
“Home fires happen more often than people think,” says Shaw. To prove her point, Shaw notes that in the San Francisco Bay Area, where her team is based, fire departments respond at least two or three times every day to a home fire situation. “They’re like silent disasters. We don’t hear about them because they’re so commonplace.”
To avoid being one of those calls, make sure there are working smoke detectors throughout the home. Have a family member or caregiver check to make sure they’re working properly and that batteries are fresh. Putting a twice a year inspection reminder on the calendar is a helpful way to maintain their working order. To accommodate severe hearing impairment – or if you’re a very deep sleeper -consider adding a “shaker” alarm system that will shake you awake if you’re sleeping soundly.
Simple measures such as avoiding unsupervised use of candles and other open flames, keeping fabrics away from heat sources and eliminating any frayed electrical cords also contribute to a fire safe environment.
Make a Plan in Advance
When disaster strikes, there’s not much time to think. In the case of fire, there’s an average of two minutes to evacuate. Efficiency is key. So is having a plan in place with family members, caregivers or neighbors.
Among the top priorities to have in place:
- Establish an accessible escape route and how and where to be found. Having a meeting place saves valuable time and reduces anxiety.
- Have emergency contacts in place. If you’re cell phone enabled, people will want to know you’re OK and how they can help. In addition to the designated local contact, the Red Cross suggests having an out of town point person as well since long distance phone services are often more reliable during community-wide emergencies.
- Be realistic about mobility issues and abilities to go up or down stairs in an emergency. If you anticipate problems, work with a neighbor to set up a system to get help and think through a few scenarios.
“It’s important to talk your plan through with your caregiver or neighbor or whoever is likely to be on the scene,” notes Shaw. “Emergency response is a community effort and cannot be done alone - regardless of age.”
Build a Kit
Preparing a kit of emergency supplies is essential to being able to either leave home in a hurry or live in it safely without power for a spell. Create a kit to take with you at a moment’s notice. Many people opt for a small suitcase with wheels for easy transport but a duffle or other sturdy bag can work as well, provided you or your caregiver can carry it.
Some of the kit’s basics include:
- Flashlight with working batteries
- Water and food
- Lots of fresh batteries
- Essential medicines
- Radio – reliable and low-tech, radios are a gateway to info about shelter locations
- Print-out of contacts
- Extra cellphone battery near front door easily accessible to take and go
Visit Red Cross Disaster Preparedness: For Seniors By Seniors for a comprehensive list of kit contents and complete emergency safety guidelines.
Prep Your Home
- Staying safe in an emergency is easier when basic safety protocol is naturally part of your lifestyle.
- Keep working flashlights handy throughout the house
- Sleep with a pair of shoes next to the bed
- Keep a pair of eyeglasses at the bedside in you wear them
- Maintain your Emergency Kit and keep it handy
The Red Cross has also developed a variety of disaster resource apps that can keep you looped in to changing conditions and help loved ones find you.
The primary key is to begin today. Even the smallest steps put you that much closer to safety. “We find that people who have some level of preparedness are more mentally ready for any emergency. Knowing some basic things creates confidence when you get to that scenario.”
For other tips and resources on how to increase safety measures and prevent falls inside the home, check out our recent post around fall prevention in the home.