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Special Fire Devices for Seniors Help Ensure Safety

Smoke detector
People with limited physical and cognitive abilities, especially older adults, are at a higher risk of death from fire than other groups.

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November 29, 2011

Smoking and candles don’t mix — not with seniors, who often live alone without a second set of eyes to be on guard for accidents. Family members can take steps to help minimize the safety risk, but a home helper — such as a Home Instead CAREGiverSM — might be a good option to help keep Mom or Dad safe.

Q. My 80-year-old father lives alone and still smokes. He also has always been fascinated with candles and burns them quite frequently. I’m concerned about a fire hazard in my dad’s house because he isn’t always careful about putting out his cigarettes or candles. My husband installed a smoke alarm for him, but he’s hard of hearing so I know he’d have trouble being alerted to a fire.

Fire danger is one of the biggest threats that any homeowner faces. In 2010, home-structure fires caused 85 percent of the civilian fire deaths in the United States and 75 percent of the civilian fire injuries, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

The U.S. Fire Administration says people over the age of 65 have a home-fire death rate nearly twice the national average. For those over 75, that risk nearly triples. Older adults account for 32 percent of fire deaths and 12 percent of estimated fire injuries, according to the National Fire Data Center of the U.S. Fire Administration. In Canada, the Office of the Ontario Fire Marshall reports that seniors over the age of 65 accounted for 30 percent of all fire fatalities reported during a recent nine-year period.

People with limited physical and cognitive abilities, especially older adults, are at a higher risk of death from fire than other groups.

It’s a fact that smoke alarms save lives. But many seniors, like your dad, can’t hear them in time to respond. There’s good news, however. A variety of smoke alarms now combine sound and strobe lights to alert those with limited hearing that there is a fire.

Check with the NFPA at for information on where to purchase specialized smoke alarms. Here are some things to consider:

  • Install a smoke alarm that uses a flashing light, vibration and/or sound to alert people. The majority of fatal fires occur when people are sleeping, and because smoke can put people into a deeper sleep, it is important to have early warning of a fire.
  • Be sure that the smoke alarm you buy carries the label of an independent testing laboratory.
  • Keep a communications device nearby. If you use a TTY/TTD device, place it close to the bed so that communication with emergency personnel is possible should fire or smoke trap you in your room.

There are other ways that you can help your father protect himself. Encourage him to quit smoking after a certain time in the day to help minimize the risk that he’ll accidentally fall asleep with a cigarette in hand.

As far as the candles, ask your father to consider these safety tips from the National Candle Association:

  • Keep lighted candles within your sight.
  • Never leave a burning candle unattended.
  • Never burn a candle on or near anything that can catch fire.
  • Keep candles out of the reach of children and pets.
  • Trim wicks to one-fourth inch prior to each use.
  • Keep candles away from drafts and vents.
  • Always use an appropriate candleholder placed on a stable, heat-resistant surface.
  • Read and follow all manufacturer instructions carefully.

Maximum burn times vary from candle to candle; follow the manufacturer’s instructions, the National Candle Association recommends. Always extinguish a candle if the flame gets too close to the candle holder or container. For a margin of safety, discontinue burning a candle when 2 inches of wax remains (one-half inch if a container candle or jar candle).

Also, it’s a good idea for your father to discard newspapers and magazines as soon as he is done reading them. If clutter is a problem in his home, consider hiring a cleaning service. Or, better yet, a home helper will not only provide assistance around the house but serve as a second set of eyes to help keep your father safe. CAREGiversSM from Home Instead Senior Care® provide these types of services and more.

For more safety tips from the National Candle Association, visit

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. October 30, 2013 at 8:51 pm | Posted by Lynn

    I would hope everybody took these simple factors and incorporate them even in their own homes as well as the elderly population. My mother caught herself on fire while living with one of my sisters. Thank God my father was there and knew what to do, because she at first did not know she was on fire. My mother was doing something and was leaning over a lit candle,and her shirt caught on fire and my dad took it off of her- fast ! Or she would have been burnt worse than she was, plus the carpet and the furnitur also suffered slight damage, after that they were no longer to have candles in the home. I can only respond to that - an Angel was watching over them. Thanks Lynn


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