Long Term Care at Home: Preventing Burns

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An important first step for long term care planning, and in deciding whether aging in place can work, is taking a hard look at your own or your relative's home. Looking past a cherished home's attractive features and focusing on its flaws and hazards can be hard to do.

Having someone with fresh eyes with you as you survey the premises can be helpful, preferably someone with experience in home modification for older people, such as a physical or occupational therapist, a geriatric care manager, or a contractor who has done similar jobs.

If you are trying to improve the home for an older relative, be aware that older people often downplay concerns about safety and resist change. Be tactful but firm. Safety is not the only issue, but it is a prerequisite to enjoying a good quality of life.

The two main issues to cover in your assessment of the home are falls and burns. They aren't the only sources of injury at home, but if you address these two, you'll likely prevent other kinds of injury as well.

Even a minor burn can lead to infection and serious consequences. Older people literally have thinner skin that's more susceptible to scalding from hot water or burns from electrical appliances. To keep older people safe from burns in their home, make sure that you

  • Replace electrical cords that are broken or cracked.

  • Replace electronic devices, heaters, or appliances that overheat, spark, or smoke.

  • Use a power strip instead of an extension cord.

  • Keep electrical appliances away from water.

  • Unplug small appliances such as toaster ovens and coffee pots when not in use.

  • Keep a three-foot zone of safety around the stove, oven, and microwave.

  • Use microwave-safe cookware.

  • Set the water temperature to a maximum of 120° F (this may be a job for a plumber or building staff).

  • Use a humidifier that sprays cool mist instead of hot steam.

  • Have smoke alarms installed and change the batteries twice a year. You can use time changes as your reminder.

Smoking in bed is still a common cause of fires. Do everything you can to prevent this really bad habit.

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