For About and By Caregivers
Five Simple Steps to Create a Safer Environment for Seniors

By Brett Brenner


Electricity is such a common part of our everyday lives. Many wake up each morning to the sound of an alarm clock and then proceed to turn on lights around the house before using a whole host of other electrical appliances throughout the day. It’s our norm. Yet in spite of the safety, comfort and entertainment electricity provides, electrical accidents are a leading cause of home fires every year.

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), adults over 65 have the highest risk of death from fire, and the risk only increases with age. For those 75 and over, the risk is 2.8 times higher than the general population. What’s more, many older adults have remained in the same home for an extended period of time, and electrical fires are more common in older homes with aging electrical systems.

In honor of National Electrical Safety Month in May and on behalf of the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI), I encourage caregivers to familiarize themselves with some basic tips to help maximize the safety of the seniors in their care while minimizing the risks associated with electricity.

1.  Verify that the home’s electrical system is in compliance with the most up to date electrical codes. Contact a licensed electrician to conduct a quick home electrical safety inspection. The electrician should determine the following:

• Circuit breaker panel board is properly labeled. When the power goes out in a specific section of the home, labels serve as a quick way to know which breaker to flip to restore power.

• Circuit breaker has a detection system designed to prevent fires. This is commonly known as an arc-fault circuit interrupter (AFCI) and can detect a circuit breakdown and disconnect the power before a fire erupts.

• Wall outlets should also include detection devices such as a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI), which can detect an imbalance or leakage of electrical currents that can cause lethal shock.

• Let the electrician know if you’re noticing any of the following: frequently blown fuses or tripped circuit breakers; a tingling feeling or slight shock when you touch an appliance; outlets and/or switches that are warm or make crackling, sizzling or buzzing noises; or flickering or dimming lights.

2. Make sure the home is properly lit.  Install night lights near stairways, walkways and other areas to ensure they are illuminated to avoid tripping hazards. Lamps should be easily accessible in seating areas and in bedrooms and touch-lamps are especially useful to seniors. Make sure light bulbs are the appropriate wattages for night lights and lamps, and consider using fluorescent bulbs as they consume less energy. 

3. Set calendar reminders to routinely check the performance of detection devices.  Press the “test” buttons on GFCIs, AFCIs and smoke detectors. You should replace smoke detectors that are more than 10 years old and replace batteries at least once a year.

4. Ensure that outlets and power cords are properly loaded. No more than two appliances should occupy a single outlet as overloaded outlets can easily overheat and start a fire. Also, check electrical cords for signs of damage and never run cords under rugs or carpets or pinch them under furniture, doors or windows.

5. Only use electric products that are certified by Underwriters Laboratories (UL). The “UL” mark indicates that the product has been tested and approved for safety. Be cautious of counterfeit electrical products, which are often sold at deep-discount stores. They may have erroneous UL labels. Look for spelling errors on the product packaging as a red flag that the product may be counterfeit.

For more information and tools to keep seniors safe, visit the resources for older adults section on the ESFI Web site. I invite you to encourage seniors to take a few moments to watch short videos on best safety practices also available on the ESFI Web site.

Brett C. Brenner is president of the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI), a non-profit organization funded by the top international electrical manufacturers and testing laboratories, electrical unions and associations, utilities, and consumer groups. Mr. Brenner is also a board member of Underwriters Laboratories Consumer Advisory Council and National Fire Protection Association Educational Messages Advisory Committee. More electrical safety information is available at

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