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Scalding Water Can Pose Risks for Seniors

If the water is too hot, set the water heater thermostat at low, which is usually about 120º for safety.
If the water is too hot, set the water heater thermostat at low, which is usually about 120º for safety.

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July 19, 2011

Older adults who are less mobile and prone to falls also are at risk of scalding. Suggestions from the Burn Foundation can help ensure that a senior is safer at home. So can a little help around the house.

Q. When I visit my 82-year-old mother, she complains that her shower is too hot. I’m concerned that she will scald herself while bathing. Is there something that I can do to help prevent her from suffering a serious injury?

Scalding is a very real concern for seniors whose dementia or other conditions and illnesses may prevent them from bathing safely.

According to The Burn Foundation, older adults and handicapped individuals are less agile and more prone to falls in the bath tub. And they may have less ability to sense when water is too hot.

Here are several sobering statistics from The Burn Foundation: Hot water causes third-degree burns in one second at 156º; in two seconds at 149º; in five seconds at 140º; and in fifteen seconds at 133º.

The first thing you can do is to check your mom’s water heater temperature. Consider the following recommendations from The Burn Foundation: Let your mother’s hot water run for three to five minutes. Test the temperature with a candy, meat or water thermometer. If the water is too hot, set your mother’s water heater thermostat at low, which is usually about 120º for safety and to save 18 percent of the energy used at 140º.

Wait a full day to allow the water temperature to change, then re-test and re-adjust the thermostat. If your mother lives in an apartment, and the water is too hot, ask the landlord to lower the temperature.

Most water heaters are set to heat water well above 140º, but a tap water temperature of 120º to 125º should be hot enough for washing clothes and dishes, according to The Burn Foundation, and most people bathe at temperatures below 110º.

If you’re concerned that your mother needs assistance when you can’t be there to watch out for her, why not consider hiring a companion. For instance, non-medical CAREGiversSM from the local Home Instead Senior Care® office can help your mom prepare for her bath and ensure that she is safe. CAREGivers also are available to assist with other tasks such as meal preparation, light housekeeping and medication reminders.

Knowing that someone else is watching out for your mother’s safety also may bring you peace of mind as well.

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