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Home Safety For The Elderly, Part III

By Anessa V. Cohen

This is the final part of an article that I read written by the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors, which gives an in-depth home safety guide for the elderly, although much of this article has relevance to all age groups.

Are lamps and light switches within reach of each bed? Lamps or switches located close to each bed will enable people getting up at night to see where they are going. Rearrange furniture closer to switches, or move lamps closer to beds. Install night lights.

Are ash trays, smoking materials, and other fire sources (heaters, hot plates, teapots, etc.) located away from beds and bedding? Burns are a leading cause of accidental death among seniors. Smoking in bed is a major contributor to this problem. Among mattress and bedding fire-related deaths in a recent year, 42% involved persons 65 or older.

Is anything covering your electric blanket when in use? Tucking in electric blankets, or placing additional coverings on top of them can cause excessive heat buildup, which can start a fire.

• Don’t allow anything to be on top of the blanket while it is in use. This includes other blankets or comforters, and even pets sleeping on top of the blanket.

• Don’t set electric blankets so high that they could burn someone who falls asleep while they are on.

Do you ever go to sleep with a heating pad that is turned on? Never go to sleep with a heating pad if it is turned on because it can cause serious burns, even at relatively low settings.

Is there a telephone close to your bed? In case of an emergency, it is important to be able to reach the telephone without getting out of bed.

In the basement, garage, workshop, and storage areas, check lighting, fuse boxes and circuit breakers, appliances and power tools, electrical cords, and flammable liquids.

Are work areas, especially areas where power tools are used, well lit? Power tools were involved in more 5,200 injuries treated in hospital emergency rooms to people 65 and over in 1982. Three-fourths of these were finger injuries. Good lighting can reduce the chance that you will accidentally cut your finger.

Can you turn on the lights without first having to walk through a dark area? Basements, garages, and storage areas can contain many tripping hazards and sharp and pointed tools that can make a fall even more hazardous. Keep a flashlight handy. Have an electrician install switches at each entrance to a dark area.

If fuses are used, are they the correct size for the circuit? Replacing a correct-size fuse with a larger-size fuse can present a serious fire hazard. If the fuse in the box is rated higher than that intended for the circuit, excessive current will be allowed to flow and possibly overload the outlet and house wiring to the point that a fire can occur. Be certain that correct-size fuses are used. (If you do not know the correct sizes, consider having an electrician identify and label the sizes to be used.)

Are power tools equipped with a three-prong plug or marked to show that they are double-insulated? These safety features reduce the risk of an electric shock. Are power tool guards in place? Power tools used with guards removed pose a serious risk of injury from sharp edges and moving parts

• Use a properly connected three-prong adapter for connecting a three-prong plug to a two-hole receptacle.

• Consider replacing old tools that don’t have a three-prong plug or are not double-insulated.

Are containers of volatile liquids tightly capped? If not tightly closed, vapors may escape that may be toxic when inhaled. Check containers periodically to make sure they are tightly closed. The CPSC has reports of several cases in which gasoline, stored as much as 10 feet from a gas water heater, exploded. Many people are unaware that gas fumes can travel that far.

Are gasoline, paints, solvents and other products that give off vapors and fumes stored away from ignition sources? Gasoline, kerosene, and other flammable liquids should be stored out of living areas in properly labeled, non-glass safety containers. Remove these products from the areas near heat and flame such as heaters, furnaces, water heaters, ranges, and other gas appliances.

For all stairways, check lighting, handrails, and the condition of the steps and coverings. Are stairs well lit? Stairs should be lighted so that each step, particularly the step edges, can be clearly seen while going up and down stairs. The lighting should not produce glare or shadows along the stairway.

Are light switches located at both the top and bottom of the stairs? Even if you are very familiar with the stairs, lighting is an important factor in preventing falls. You should be able to turn on the lights before you use the stairway from either end.

Do the steps allow secure footing? Worn treads and worn and loose carpeting can lead to insecure footing, resulting in slips and falls.

• Try to avoid wearing only socks or smooth-soled shoes or slippers when using stairs.

• Make certain the carpet is firmly attached to the steps all along the stairs.

• Consider refinishing or replacing worn treads or replacing worn carpeting.

• Paint outside steps with paint that has a rough texture, or use abrasive strips.

Are the steps even and of the same size and height? Even a small difference in step surfaces or riser heights can lead to falls. Mark any steps that are especially narrow or have risers that are higher or lower than the others. Are the coverings on the steps in good condition? Worn and torn coverings and nails sticking out from coverings could snag your foot and cause you to trip. Can you clearly see the edges of the steps? Falls may occur if the edges of the steps are blurred or hard to see. Is anything stored on the stairway, even temporarily? People can trip over objects left on stairs, particularly in the event of an emergency or fire.

• Paint edges of outdoor steps white to see them better at night.

• Add extra lighting.

• If you plan to carpet your stairs, avoid deep-pile carpeting, and patterned and dark-colored carpeting that can make it difficult to see the edges of the steps clearly. v

Anessa Cohen lives in Cedarhurst and is a licensed real-estate broker and a licensed N.Y.S. mortgage originator with over 20 years of experience, offering full-service residential, commercial, and management real-estate services (Anessa V Cohen Realty) and mortgaging services (First Meridian Mortgage) in the Five Towns and throughout the tri-state area. She can be reached at 516-569-5007 or via her website, Readers are encouraged to send questions or comments to

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Posted by on July 17, 2014. Filed under In This Week's Edition. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.