If you ask any seasoned emergency services professional about kitchen safety and older adults, they will tell you that a senior cooking is a common cause of fires in the home. According to Federal Emergency Management Agency statistics, people over the age of 65 are 2.5 times more likely than the general population to be injured or die in a fire.

What puts seniors at so much higher risk for kitchen fires?

There are four major issues that contribute to these frightening statistics:

1. As hard as it is to believe, not having working smoke detectors in the home is a common cause. Fire prevention experts say that 10 – 15% of seniors don’t have a smoke detector, or the one they have doesn’t work. That allows kitchen fires to get out of control before the older adult in the house even knows there is a problem.
2. Alzheimer’s disease or another form of memory loss can make the elderly more forgetful. They might leave the kitchen to check the mail or to answer the phone and then forget they were cooking.
3. Diseases that are more common in older adults may create physical impairments that place them at risk. Those include the hand tremors Parkinson’s causes, hearing problems, and vision loss. These conditions all make it harder to react quickly in an emergency.
4. Clothing choices also contribute to fires particularly loose, long-sleeved blouses. Floppy sleeves can easily dip in to the gas flame or against the electric burner and ignite.

How can caregivers decrease the risk of fire for an elderly loved one?

 – Make sure they have working smoke detectors on every level of their home. Check the batteries several times a year for them. If you are a long distance caregiver, see if a neighbor or in-home caregiver can do it.
 – Buy a small, easy-to-operate fire extinguisher for their kitchen. Make sure you help them learn how to use it and find a good spot to store it.
 – Remind them not to wear clothing with loose sleeves while cooking. Instead, wear tops with tight-fitting sleeves and use longer oven mitts.
 – If their stove is an older model that requires them to reach across the burners to turn the controls on and off, try to replace it with a newer model with knobs located on the front.
 – New to the consumer safety market but gaining in popularity is stove alarms, such as Cook Stop. They use timed sensors to sound an alarm when a pan may have been left cooking for too long.

There are many resources available online to help you improve the safety of an elderly loved one’s kitchen at no cost. One of our favorites is Fire Safety Checklist for Older Adults. It is a free publication from FEMA.