ARTICLES / General /
7 Essential Doís and Doníts... /
By Jennifer Bradley, Staff Writer
A hot shower is a must for many people to
either start or finish the day. For the elderly,
it can be the same, but also a risky
undertaking. In all age groups, tap water scalds
are the second most common cause of burn
injuries. Elderly loved ones, however, are at a
greater risk for scalding than other populations
for a variety of reasons.
The Burn Foundation says that hot water causes
third-degree burns in one second at 156 degrees F,
in two seconds at 149 degrees F, in five seconds at
140 degrees F, and in 15 seconds at 133 degrees F.
Scalding is a second-degree burn that is deep and
results in splitting of skin layers and/or
The solution would seem to be to simply
decrease the water temperature; the Occupational
Safety and Health Administrationís (OSHA) manual on
Legionnaireís disease (a potentially fatal
infectious disease) says differently, however. Water
is to be stored at a minimum of 140 degrees F, but
can be delivered at a minimum of 122 degrees F to
ensure harmful bacteria are killed.
A caregiver must first recognize the level of
risk their loved one has for scalding, and also know
ways to prevent unnecessary burns, while maintaining
a safe water temperature.
The number one risk an elderly person has for
scalding is simply a decreased reaction time. Many
seniors will unknowingly subject themselves to the
danger of severe burns and realize it too late.
There are a couple things to know about skin changes
as people age. First, elderly people have thinner
skin, which burns at a lower temperature than those
who are younger. It also burns faster. In addition,
an elderly loved one is 50 percent less likely to
survive a severe burn.
The mental capacity of a loved one will also
affect their ability to prevent scalding while
alone. Whether Parkinsonís, dementia or another
illness that affects mental reasoning, a caregiver
must realize that a person may not have the ability
they previously had to determine a safe water
temperature. The risk is further heightened by
mobility issues, increased falls and trips that may
unintentionally cause a slip on a bathroom fixture.
The same precedent goes for a loved one who has
just had surgery, and may think a wound is healed
enough for a warmer water immersion, when it
actually is not.
Caregivers are on not off the hook, either. If an
inexperienced caregiver leaves a love one
unattended, runs water at too high a temperature, or
allows a person to change the water temp without
assistance, the chances for scalding increase
greatly. What may feel warm to a caregiver could be
a very hot experience for a loved one.
As with many tasks involving an elderly loved
one, not rushing through bathing is important.
Scalding is more likely to occur when a caregiver is
in a hurry, stressed or distracted.