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Keep safety in mind for seniors during the holidays

A little planning and some precautionary measures can ensure displays are enjoyed all season long
Alexis, Ethan, baby Rhett and Jed joined grandpa, Langley City fire chief Scott Kennedy, at the firehall. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)

Keeping safety in mind while preparing for the upcoming Christmas season is important, and maybe a little more so for the senior population.

Without question, decorating the interior and exterior of a home is a beloved holiday tradition in millions of households.

And when attempting to make the holiday season a magical time of year, people tend to think of twinkly lights, scented candles, live Christmas trees, and the addition of many festive decorations.

While on the surface these are all welcome additions, there are a number of precautions that should be considered when decking the halls with such festive accoutrements, said Langley City’s fire chief Scott Kennedy.

“Christmas time is a time for celebration, family, and joy. But, if you have an aging senior in your family, then you may need to be a bit extra cautious during this holiday season,” he said.

Langley City firefighters can speak first hand to the importance of taking a few simple safety measures, after witnessing their share of unexpected accidents specific to the holiday season.

“For seniors there are several dangers that can be found in the decorations and on the day of your family get together,” Kennedy said. “While the holiday season should be a time for celebration, it should also be a time when family caregivers are on high alert for their loved ones’ health and safety.”

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With lights should come precautions

Fire safety is especially important during a time of year when string lights and potentially dried out trees feature so prominently – Christmas lights proving one of the biggest risks – not only for seniors, Kennedy said.

“Decorating for the holiday season is a time of joy that can really make your home look festive. However, holiday decorations may be a hazard to your loved one’s health,” he shared.

While he recommends using LED lights because they run cooler than other bulbs, and consume less energy as a bonus, Kennedy said people need to also be very aware of how many strands of lights are being used.

Never exceed the maximum number of strands that can be attached together, and make sure any lights or other products used meet all the certified safety tests (CSA or UL approved), he elaborated.

“Some lower quality lights may cause electrical shortages, which lead to electrical fires,” Kennedy pointed out, noting that lights and extension cords must be used according to directions to minimize the risks, ie.don’t use indoor lights outdoors.

Do not pinch light cords. Stringing lights can be a hassle, but cords should never be pinched in doors or windows or beneath interior and exterior furniture. They should never cross walkways outside, but rather be tucked safely away near the base of the house.

As for inside, cords can also pose a significant threat, whether on the floor or hanging down, and again he suggested using further caution when installing.

“Do not string extension cords across your floor or hide them under rugs. The extension cords could cause problems for your loved ones if they shuffle their feet or if they use a walker, or a cane,” Kennedy said, especially thinking of the safety of the elderly this holiday season.

Instead, he suggested: “Look for battery-operated Christmas decorations and keep your tree near an outlet, so it can be easily lit.”

And when it comes to anything electrical, Kennedy warned residents to avoid overloading circuits.

Overloaded circuits also pose a significant fire hazard. When plugging in lights, choose outlets that aren’t already occupied by devices and other electronics. If need be, unplug appliances like televisions and devices while lights are on and plugged in. This might be more of an issue for someone who has downsized their home, but maybe not the quantity of holiday decorations they’re now displaying in a smaller space.

READ MORE: Living 60+ Holiday Edition 2022


Who thought a Christmas tree could be dangerous?

Of course, there’s cautions that need to be considered when picking the type of tree that’s going to be adorned with decorations each year.

“Christmas trees are the centerpiece of many Christmas events. They hold decorative and nostalgic ornaments that bring joy and happiness to your family. However, Christmas trees may also bring danger to your household,” Kennedy said.

Real Christmas trees are at risk of catching fire far more easily than artificial trees, he explained.

If opting for a live tree, a senior might want to think about the increased difficulty they will encounter manoeuvring the tree safely from the lot to the spot in their home.

“If you do get a real Christmas tree, then make sure that you choose a live tree that has green needles that do not break easily. The tree should also be sticky with resin and only have a few loose needles,” he said.

Once it’s home, then there’s an issue of setting it up and getting it all decked out in non-combustible or flame-resistant ornaments.

But one thing often forgotten before even getting the tree home, is the amount of times one will have to spend getting up and down on the floor to water said live tree. Food for thought for those who might struggle getting up and down off the floor.

Of course, the freshness of the tree is critical. The longer a tree has been cut, the drier it is and the higher the risk is of a fire, so in all cases he reminded people to place a tree at least three feet away from any heat sources, whether that’s a fireplace, vent, or radiator.


Dangers can run floor to ceiling

Other holiday safety tips include avoiding the use of candles with real flames, especially around children, animals, and hanging decorations.

“Many holiday decorating ideas involve very combustible materials such as tissue paper and flammable cottons. These materials should be avoided in your home and in your elderly loved one’s home,” Kennedy said.

“If they cannot be avoided, then you should keep these materials away from bare electrical wires, fireplaces, or candles so that they do not become ignited easily.”

As well, avoid letting holiday lights or decorations, inside or out, hang down where they could catch on or unnecessary distract passersby – especially if limited sight is an issue.

The fire chief also recommended exercising extreme caution when hanging decorations at high heights – and that’s not exclusive to lights. Make sure the ladder is secure and there’s a spotter there to help.

Or, if due to balance, sight, or a myriad of other possible health concerns, navigating a ladder is no longer a safe option, seniors might be wise to have a friend, family member, or even a contractor string some of the higher bulbs and decorations.

Other food for thought offered by Kennedy relates to mats or other holiday decorations on the floor, which could pose a hazard.

If you’re having guests visiting – regardless of age – make sure any trip and/or slip hazards are removed along the exterior access route and that the path is well lit, and support is offered as a precaution. This isn’t limited to just the holidays, but rather the entire winter season, Kennedy noted.

He also suggested that setting up Christmas displays on the ground or floor during the holiday season, especially in a high traffic area, could be problematic.

“Floor decorations may impede your elderly loved ones’ walkers or canes. They may also impede their ability to walk and may increase their chances of falling,” Kennedy said.

He also pointed to floor rugs that can pose a very common danger.

“Plus, if they are concealing electrical cords, then they may be filled with bumps that could cause your loved ones to trip and fall,” he added.


Being prepared

In order to be prepared, people should also have an emergency fire plan in place for themselves and their elderly loved ones.

Having a smoke detector in each room of the home can be one of the best measures to prevent being hurt in a house fire, Kennedy explained.

After that, he suggested people have what they call a plan of action.

“Make sure everyone who will be in your home over the holiday season knows where to meet and what to do if there is a fire. Also, make sure you have at least one fire extinguisher in your home to combat small house fires,” he said.

When decorating this holiday season, celebrants are urged to do everything they can to reduce the risk of fire and accidents in their homes. These are just a few tips.

“Christmas time is a time to celebrate with your family, friends and loved ones. Christmas is a time to feel nostalgic and to make new memories with your family. A safe Christmas can be fun and fabulous. Simply follow these tips and you can make sure that all of your loved ones will stay healthy and injury free during the holidays,” Kennedy concluded.

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Consider asking a family member, friend, or contractor to help decorate your home and or yard, if decking the halls is becoming a little too much or too hard. (Metro Creative/Special to Langley Advance Times)

Roxanne Hooper

About the Author: Roxanne Hooper

I began in the news industry at age 15, but honestly, I knew I wanted to be a community journalist even before that.
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