When a powerful tool becomes lethal to the health of someone you love
The lethal weapon that most people focus on is of course the car. Generations of Americans cannot wait until they hit the magical driving age. It’s a milestone. It’s a celebration of the American lifestyle…the open road, the wind in your hair. Those are things that a minority of Americans never experience. But the rest of us, embrace the legacy and hold on to it with a death grip. If we had grown up in places where public transportation played a more significant role in people moving I think we would still consider it un-American to not learn to drive. But the elderly make up a disproportionate number of traffic fatalities and injuries. According to a report out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 5,500 older adults were killed and more than 183,000 were injured in motor vehicle accidents in 2008. Starting at age 75 the crash rates per mile traveled increase and jump significantly by age 80.
Older drivers already use caution when they drive. They have a higher incident of seat belt use (77 percent) compared to other adults (63 percent), they avoid driving during bad weather and at night and generally drive fewer miles than younger drivers, which indicates that the rate of incidence could be much higher. But the CDC also recommends exercising regularly to increase strength and flexibility, reviewing medications with your doctor or pharmacist to ensure your prescription and over-the-counter medications don’t impair your driving, planning your route before you drive to take advantage of safer routes, recognizing that your response rate is likely slower and therefore leaving a larger following distance, getting your vision checked annually and wearing glasses or corrective lenses as required and avoiding distractions (such as eating, listening to loud music or driving with Fifi on your lap).
Regardless of how well you drive now, it’s likely at some point as you age, you’ll need to consider getting rid of your car. Taking the time now to look for ways to ensure that you can still have the spontaneity and independence that a car provides will make it easier to give up the keys later.
If you are concerned about your driving or someone you love’s driving, AAA provides an online screening resource to help identify mental and physical limitations. If the time has come to have a talk with a reluctant loved one about driving, AARP has a free online seminar to help keep the discussion on track and upbeat.
Most of the time when fire arms make it into the news, the individual involved is young but according to the CDC, in 2010, 4,276 people age 65+ committed suicide by firearm. Americans take their guns nearly as seriously as they take their cars so asking a person to give up their gun may not impact their freedom to get around like the car keys will but many people just feel safer having their own fire arm in the home. Here’s a list of some considerations elderly gun owners or the children of elderly gun owners should consider.
I’m not advocating removing a gun from someone’s possession. I am advocating using reasonable caution if you or a parent begins to show signs of cognitive or physical limitations that might bear on the safety of leaving a gun in the home. The article referenced above suggests talking to a lawyer or the police but as with all family matters, the discussion should begin with the people who love each other trying to come to a reasonable agreement.
Stoves and ovens
Several decades ago, I left a pan of biscuits in the oven and went off to work. By the time I remembered them they had been overcooked by one to two hours and could have been mistaken for charcoal briquettes. I say this to point out that you don’t have to reach a certain age range to make the act of cooking dangerous. A Norwegian Fire Laboratories report found that people 70 and over were four times more likely to die in a house fire than the rest of the population. It also found that half of all women who die in a fire are 70 or older.
While safety equipment is not yet built into stoves, there are some devices already on the market to help prevent stove fires such as the Stove Guard, and of course you can take some simple prevention measures such as removing knobs when the stove is not being used. A Geriatric Care Manager can make other recommendations to help make a kitchen safer. If you need to contact a Geriatric Care Manager you can find a list here or call 1.877.762.4464.