Every day, 10,000 Americans in the “Baby Boomer” generation are turning 65, with currently over 52 million Americans over the age of 65, representing approximately 16% of the population. Adults 65 and over experience higher incidence, injury and deaths from fires and falls than the general population, regardless of sex, race, socioeconomic status and geographic location. Whether you are over 65, or like me, the “Sandwich Generation,” taking on increased responsibilities for aging parents while still caring for children, preventing falls is critical to maintaining quality of life and independent living.
NFPA’s Remembering WhenTM (RM) Older Adult Fire & Fall Prevention Program pairs fire service with public health and elder care agencies to support healthy behaviors among older adults and their caregivers. Based upon eight key fire and eight key fall prevention messages, the program is used to support behavior change, community engagement and public education. Program components includes a group presentation for use in the community, materials to support conducting home assessment visits, implementing community smoke alarm installation programs, and addressing hoarding issues. All materials are free and available for download from the NFPA Public Education website.
The risk factors within aging populations are similar for fires and falls, making the need to educate older adults on adopting prevention and response behaviors critical. The aging process alone creates limitations such as decreased mobility, vision, hearing and cognitive functioning. Combined with aging homes/appliances, increased clutter, hoarding behaviors, and an increase in the use of medications for chronic conditions, the older adult population is consistently vulnerable to the effects of falls and fires. Medications to manage chronic conditions and disabilities too, increase the risk for fire and falls.
As approximately 95% of older adults live independently in their own homes, helping aging adults navigate daily activities such as cooking, bathing, and moving through their home without incident is essential to maintaining their independence, reducing fires and falls, reducing strain on fire service resources for non-emergency lift assist calls. Dori Krahn, Community Relations Coordinator for the Saskatoon, Canada Fire Department offers the benefits of the RW program to her population, “Fire and falls are a great combination – fire safety gets us the group presentation and once there, participants are often surprised by how much they learned about fall prevention. Conversely, fall prevention gets us into people’s homes and once we are there, they are surprised that their smoke alarms haven’t just automatically taken care of themselves and their fire escape plans can’t be left to intuition.”
Falls send an average of one of every 17 people who was at least 65 to the emergency department per year. Many firefighters see more fall victims than fire victims. In some cases, they are called to help someone who has fallen get back into bed or chair. In 2016 and 2017, local fire departments went to more “assist invalid” incidents than to structure fires. Many of these incidents were caused by falls. NFPA found that “assist invalid” incidents increased 35% from 2014 to 2017 With increasing calls to fall-related incidents, the fire service is in a unique position to work with community partners for prevention. AG
NFPA's Home Safety Checklist helps public education and injury prevention professionals to engage with their residents in taking stock of simple, critical ways to prevent falls and fires, and creates opportunities to address barriers to behavior change. From clearing stairways and exits of clutter, to installing proper lighting, to safety rails in the shower, there are numerous ways to prevent falls among older adults and support healthy aging across the life span. NFPA's Remembering When Older Adult Fire & Fall Prevention Program provides the tools, talking points, materials and motivation to help older adults reduce their risk of fire and fall. Falls Prevention Day is sponsored by the National Council on Aging, is a great time to reach out to the older adults in your life and your community to protect and promote their quality of life.