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Research reveals concerns over elderly safety during housefire amid winter season

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High risk for housefire fatalities persists among elderly Australians, with concerns over mobility and hearing impairments.

At least one Australian dies from residential fires each week, with people aged over 65 accounting for over a third (36%) of all fatalities. In fact, research reveals half (50%) of Australians are concerned that their relatives could not escape a housefire in time, with low mobility and being hard of hearing topping the list as the biggest barrier to getting out safely.

With winter well and truly upon us, Aussies are turning to heaters, electric blankets and fireplaces to keep warm. Although these favourite appliances bring some comfort, they also bring more risk, with an increase in more than 1,100 home fires attended each year.

Despite those dangers and more than half (57%) of Australians worrying about their elderly relatives still living at home, only two in five (42%) regularly check their elderly relatives’ smoke alarms to ensure they are still working.

Shockingly, a quarter believed their relatives would sleep through a smoke alarm. Jim Tsanidis, whose elderly parents live on their own, mentions that this is a constant worry in the cooler months.

“My 70-year-old mother still lives on her own and suffers from hearing loss and bad mobility. She doesn’t hear when her phone goes off and relies on the vibrations to know someone is calling. I constantly worry that if a fire alarm goes off, she wouldn’t know there’s any danger until she could smell the smoke or feel the heat, at which point it may be too late!” Tsanidis said.

These fears are not unfounded, with the over 65s being at greater risk of perishing in a housefire than any other age group. On top of this, almost two thirds (58%) of Aussies haven’t discussed an escape plan in case of fire with their family.

Fire safety expert and CEO of Brooks Australia, Cathy Brand, said the number of Aussies without a safety plan for their families is alarming.

“Escape plans may sound like catastrophic thinking, but it’s a necessary part of keeping our families safe and should only take a five-minute conversation. Everyone needs to know how to get out of the house safely and where to meet for a roll call, especially our older relatives,” Brand said.

Concerningly, around one in six (17%) Australians are affected by hearing loss, but more than half (53%) don’t wear their hearing aids or cochlear implants while they sleep. As most fatal housefire occur at night, having an escape plan and ways of notifying hard of hearing members is vital.

For these reasons, physical and visual alerts are essential for notifying elderly or hard of hearing Australians of imminent danger. To protect elderly loved ones, specialised brook smoke alarms for the hard of hearing are available and come with a vibrating pad that is placed under their pillow and a strobe light which is linked to the home’s smoke detectors.

“Smoke alarms are the first step in saving lives, but for those who are hard of hearing or deaf alarms are ineffective at alerting them. Thankfully, there are a number of solutions designed to keep the deaf, hard of hearing and elderly Australians safe,” Brand said.

“These deaf and hard of hearing alarms signal an audible warning simultaneously; the alarm activates a high intensity strobe light and a vibrating pad which is located beneath the sleepers’ pillow. They can also be linked with other smoke alarms in the home, so when any other alarm senses smoke, the strobe light and vibrating pad would be activated to wake the sleepers up.”

With winter being the most dangerous time of the year for fires, Aussies are being urged to check in on their elderly family members and neighbours to ensure they’re taking appropriate measures to keep them safe. Older Aussies looking to keep their home fire safe, can check out Brooks Australia’s Fire Safety Checklist.

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