Home is where the heart is, but it is also where the five most dangerous items are lurking. For elderly people, safeguarding the home from potential injury can help prevent costly emergency room visits and even save lives. Here are the five most dangerous items in a home that pose a significant risk to older persons.
Watch Your Step-Rugs
According to Dr. Kaycee Sink, an associate professor with Wake Forest University School of Medicine, area and throw rugs are one of the most hazardous household items. Whether it's a large area rug used to retain heat in a home with hardwood floors or it's a runner to accent a hallway, rugs pose a significant risk of falling, particularly for older people. Throw rugs are considered even more dangerous than stairs. Indeed, a person crosses over a rug more often than they go up or down the stairs. It may be a good idea to remove any unnecessary area rugs from the home or at the very least ensure that they are secured down to the floor firmly and checked on a routine basis.
Over the Counter Medications
Dr. Sink also mentions Benadryl as one of the most dangerous items a person can use in the home. The active ingredient is diphenhydramine, which is also found in over the counter medications such as Tylenol PM. Older people who have early onset dementia are known for taking these OTC medicines to help them fall asleep at night. However, these medications can increase confusion and react adversely with some dementia medications. Increased confusion and drowsiness put older people at much greater risk for falls or other accidents and may increase wandering. It is always wise to check with a doctor or pharmacist before over the counter medications are taken along with prescription drugs.
Faulty Fire Detection Systems
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports that people over the age of 65 are twice more likely to die from a house fire than the rest of the population. Detecting a fire in enough time to safely make it out of the home is an important prevention method, but many elderly people fail to test and replace older batteries in their smoke detectors. The detectors often are too high for them to reach and typically are forgotten about. Older homes often do not have enough smoke detectors placed throughout the home. Smoke detectors should be placed within every sleeping area, just outside of the sleeping areas, and in the kitchen. For people with hearing impairments, there are special smoke detectors that vibrate and flash bright lights. All alarms should be interconnected so that when one goes off, they all go off.
The other fire risk is the use of space heaters. Space heaters are typically left on and forgotten about or they are placed too close to flammable items such as curtains or bed sheets. While space heaters are an attractive option for saving money, use of these fire hazards should be avoided whenever possible. At the very least, top of the line heaters with automatic shut off timers are a safer option. The NFPA also advises never to use extension cords or even power strips when using a space heater. Not only do they carry greater risk of starting a fire, they are also a tripping and falling hazard.
The Most Dangerous Item in the Home
The stairs are the number one cause of falling in the home for seniors. Falling down the stairs is the number one cause of traumatic brain injury (TBI) for seniors, according to the Journal of Trauma Nursing in their review of TBI in 2015. Also, the rate of TBI among seniors has been rising due to fall-related injuries. Elderly people are more likely to have mobility and health issues that make physically going up or down the stairs a significant challenge. They also may be taking medications that can impair them visually or cognitively. Making the stairs a safer place by adding better lighting and handrails on both sides can reduce the risk of fall-related injury. In some cases, seniors may benefit from installing a chair lift system if their risk of falling is high due to certain health conditions and medications.
Stairs do not only carry the risk of TBI. Broken bones, including hips, are major injuries that can set a senior back almost permanently. In the same vein as stairs, step ladders and step stools are also dangerous items for seniors who aren't as sure-footed as they once were.
One third of all injuries happen in the home. Most of these injuries are fall- or burn-related. Taking a little extra precaution with the items in the home can go a long way to keeping a senior safer.
Cox, Lauren. (January 6, 2012). 5 Experts Answer: What Are the Most Dangerous Items in a Home? Live Science. Available at http://www.livescience.com/36074-5-experts-answer-dangerous-items-home.html. Last Visited April 7, 2016.
Krishnamoorthy, V., Distelhorst, J. T., Vavilala, M., Thompson, H. (July/August 2015). Traumatic Brain Injury in the Elderly: Burden, Risk Factors, and Prevention. Journal of Trauma Nursing,22(4): 204-208. Available at http://journals.lww.com/journaloftraumanursing/Fulltext/2015/07000/Traumatic_Brain_Injury_in_the_Elderly___Burden,.6.aspx. Last Visited April 7, 2016.
National Fire Protection Assocation. Older Adults. Available at http://www.nfpa.org/safety-information/for-consumers/populations/older-adults. Last Visited April 7, 2016.