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Accidental Fires – A Leading Cause of Death in Seniors At Home

Older adults are more likely to die or be injured in a house fire than other populations, according to the Canadian Safety Council and the Canadian National Fire Information Database.

There are a number of factors that put seniors at higher risk of accidental fires. These include:

  • Vision changes. Seniors with poor or no vision risk falling on top of space heaters or falling while trying to escape from a fire. They’re also less likely to notice potential sources of fire, like combustibles that are placed too close to heat sources, such as dish towel too close to a stove burner or a lit cigarette discarded near paper.
  • Hearing loss. Age-related hearing loss is common and can affect a person’s ability to hear a smoke detector. The risk is even higher during the night, which is when most fire-related fatalities occur. Even seniors with mild to moderate hearing loss are less likely to respond to a regular residential smoke alarm when sleeping, according to research.
  • Decreased sense of smell. Smell is another sensory ability that diminishes with age, which can prevent a senior from being alerted to a fire in the home at any time of day. For instance, a senior may not notice the smell from a forgotten pot on the stove or a lit cigarette that makes contact with clothing or bedding.
  • Diminished sense of touch. As we age, our skin changes and our sense of touch decreases. A diminished sense of touch means that older adults can have trouble sensing pain or heat, and have a slower reaction to tactile stimulation. This can lead to more serious burns if they don’t notice a sleeve has caught on fire while cooking or a hot door handle that could otherwise alert them to a fire elsewhere in the home.
  • Mobility issues. Trouble with mobility makes it harder for a person to react quickly in the case of a fire. It can impede a person’s escape from a burning home. A senior with even mild age-related mobility changes is more likely to accidentally trip over a space heater.
  • Illness. The risk of illness increases with age and many older adults live with chronic illness. Conditions that cause physical or mental capacity can impact reaction time and affect how quickly and well a person responds to a fire. Reduced mental capacity can also make it difficult for some people to recognize fire-risks or engage in activities that increase the risk for fire.

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