By U. Kelley Riedel, Attorney at law
PROTECTING OUR ELDERLY — Burn and fire injuries suffered by older adults are on the rise. According to the American Burn Association, over 1,200 Americans aged 65 and older die each year as a result of fire or burn related injuries. Adults aged 65 and over have two to four times the fire or burn injury death rate compared to the national average.
While many fire-related deaths of the elderly can be attributed to careless smoking, the leading cause of fire and burn injuries to older adults is cooking related. Closely behind statistically, scalding incidents, faulty electricity and chemical burns also cause a large number of serious injuries and deaths to the elderly population. These burn and fire injuries can occur in a private home as well as in a nursing home where proper protocols are not in place to prevent such injuries, or when the nursing home staff fails to implement proper burn prevention protocols.
Older adults experience many physical and cognitive changes during the aging process which make them more susceptible to fire and burn injuries. Their ability to see, hear and feel fire and burn dangers decreases as they age, for example an older adult with diminished eyesight may not see that a stove burner is on. Older adults with decreased mobility are less able to escape a fire, and impairments due to illness such as stroke, or even medication or alcohol consumption, can interfere with their ability to recognize or react to the dangers of a fire or burn.
Because almost 13% of the U.S. population (over 36 million) is aged 65 and older, there is a need to assess injury risk affecting them as they age. The needs of older adults include assistance with daily living, making their living environment safe and educating older adults, particularly those who live alone, about the fire and burn dangers. The American Burn Association predicts that as the nation’s older population grows, fire death tolls will likely rise in proportion to that growth unless these needs are met.
As over 50% of adults over age 65 in the U.S. live with some sort of assisted care, whether it be in a private home or in a nursing home or other type of care facility for the elderly, these assisted care and living programs have a responsibility to make the living environment as safe as possible to prevent fire and burn injuries. Administrators of nursing homes and home health care programs must consider fire safety and burn prevention as part of their plan of care. Employees, patients and their families must be educated about the common causes of burns as well as how to prevent them.
Older adults who live alone are 30% more likely to suffer an unintended injury such as a fire or burn injury. It is only through education and prevention methods that the risk of such types of injuries can be reduced.
U. Kelley Riedel is a partner with the law firm of Berman & Riedel, LLP in San Diego, California. The firm is well-known throughout the State of California for obtaining exceptional results on behalf of burn victims, as well as people who have suffered serious personal injuries and the elderly and dependent adults who are suffer abuse or neglect while residing in a nursing home.