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Autumn is just around the corner, and soon trees will be shedding their leaves, forcing homeowners to once again grab their rakes and leaf blowers in an attempt to restore order, just in time for snow to fall. Some of those homeowners will, as people have for generations, try to burn those leaves to dispose of them.

In a word: don't.

It's not just that leaf burning leads to air pollution and potential health problems for people with asthma, COPD, and other respiratory ailments. It's not just that they produce carbon monoxide, a potentially lethal chemical that can kill if not vented properly.No, burning leaves can create a monstrous fire hazard, as light leaves are carried by wind to areas with ready tinder. It's no wonder that many communities have banned the practice.

Besides, why would you burn leaves, when you can use them as a base for a terrific compost? Leaves are full of the nutrients that plants crave, and if composted properly, they create great fertilizer for your lawn or garden.

Even if you don't want to compost, it's still best to dispose of your leaves properly. After all, the recent wildfires have shown the danger of an errant spark; no matter how romantic, a leaf fire isn't worth the risk of destruction.

Old Man Stock.XchngWhile the number and type of assistive devices available to help the elderly and disabled continues to grow, one simple factor remains a potential barrier to acceptance: The fact that seniors simply may not wish to use an assistive device. This is understandable, of course; people want to be independent, they want to do things on their own, and they don't necessarily want to admit that they can't. This is as true for 5-year-olds, 15-year-olds, and 35-year-olds as it is for 85-year-olds. 

Of course, this can have a paradoxical effect. If seniors choose not to use assistive technologies, their health needs can force them into a more intrusive care environment. So with that in mind, what makes seniors more receptive to using assistive technologies?

A 1995 study published by the American Society on Aging shows some intriguing results, and suggest ways to help work with older relatives to help them accept and embrace assistive technologies.

  • People are more willing to accept assistive technologies if they expect to use them. Seniors who underwent surgery with the expectation that they may need assistive devices as part of their recovery were more likely to embrace the technologies than those who did not. This tells us that communication is key. Talk with your elderly relatives like the adults they are. Discuss various technologies with them. Let them get comfortable with the idea before simply springing it on them.
  • Seniors who use technologies tend to keep using them; seniors who don't, don't. Looking at seniors with assistive devices, the best predictor of who uses devices two months out from getting them is who is using them one month out. Three months out, it's who was using them two months out. Quite simply, seniors who are willing to start using assistive technologies are willing to keep using them. But if they never grow comfortable with the devices, they're going to continue to resist using them.
  • Seniors who live alone are more willing to use assistive devices. This makes sense; if seniors have someone to help them, they'll take the help, obviously. But seniors who lived by themselves were willing to use the devices to help themselves remain independent.
  • Age and gender have nothing to do with acceptance. Whether they were male or female, whether they were in their 60s or their 80s, seniors were equally likely to accept or reject the devices. One shouldn't expect that a relatively older senior will be a technophobe, nor should one expect that a relatively younger senior will accept new technologies. 
  • Social stigma remains a barrier to using assistive technologies. Because society tends to be full of negative stereotypes about disabilities, many seniors were unwilling to use assistive devices, for fear that the devices would make them appear "crippled" or "handicapped." Conversely, seniors who viewed assistive technologies as means to maintain some independence were more likely to accept them. 

That last point is very important. The truth, of course, is that whether you're using assistive technologies to help with physical or cognitive impairment, assistive devices help people maintain independence and remain active in society. It's important that we recognize and celebrate this, and not only when someone we know needs them. Eliminating the social stigma of disability and aging will help those facing them to maintain their dignity and self-worth.

Old Woman Stock.XchngBaby Boomers have always seen themselves as trend-setters, and as they enter retirement, they're starting a new trend -- Aging in Place, in which seniors remain in their homes, rather than enter a managed care facility or nursing home. This provides for more independence and better quality of life, but obviously, it makes it impossible for a nurse at a station to monitor seniors' health.

Fortunately, technology is marching on, and new technologies are allowing seniors to age in place without surrendering safety and security.

Home monitoring systems allow seniors to remain at home while monitors transmit data about movement, activity, and even physiological data like glucose levels over the internet. These can be used by caregivers and family to ensure that seniors are safe and active. Other devices, like Stove Stopper, can provide fail-safes for potentially dangerous appliances, helping to reduce the risk of fire or other accidents.

Technology is only going to continue to advance, of course. Robot servants may become commonplace over the next few decades, able to retrieve items and assist seniors who face mobility issues.

Of course, while seniors may wish to remain at home, not everyone can. Seniors may need to be close to family, but may wish to still maintain some level of independence. This has led to the development of the "granny pod," a small apartment -- less than 300 square feet -- that can be placed in a modest sized backyard. Seniors can maintain their own living space, while living literally steps from friends or family who can respond in an emergency, providing the psychological benefits of independence without sacrificing safety.

As technology advances, it is allowing seniors greater flexibility without sacrificing security. And that's excellent news, both for seniors and those who love them.

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House Fire Kiwi NZLast week we looked at putting together a fire preparedness plan and steps you can take to minimize your risk of fire. But what if the unthinkable happens, and you find yourself caught in a fire? Here are five things to remember if you're facing a blaze.

  • Get Out and Stay Out. If you can get safely out of your house, do so immediately, and don't go back in to retrieve personal possessions or to try to fight the fire yourself. Losing possessions or your home is awful, but they can be replaced -- you can't.
  • Check Doors Before Opening. Use the back of your hand to feel the doorknob and the space below the door. If it feels hot, don't open the door! Instead, look for another exit.
  • Stay Low and Go. Stay as close to the ground as possible -- hot air rises, and the air closer to the ground will have less smoke in it. If you can't get low, cover your mouth and nose to try to minimize smoke inhalation. 
  • Stop, Drop, and Roll. You probably remember this from back in grade school, but that's because it really works. If your clothing catches on fire, running gives the fire oxygen -- the fuel it needs to grow. Instead, cover your face with your hands, drop to the ground, and roll over and over -- this smothers the fire. If you are physically unable to roll, use a fire-resistant blanket to smother the fire.
  • And If You're Trapped.... You may discover there's no safe route out. If that happens, close all doors behind you and try to cover all cracks and vents with wet cloths to block out smoke. If you can, call the fire department to let them know where you are. Turn on all the lights you can, and use a light-colored cloth in the window to signal rescuers.

Hopefully you never have to use these tips, but if you do, following them can help you survive a fire should you have to.

House Fire Sam BeebeYesterday we talked fire preparedness planning, and 5 Key Parts of a Fire Preparedness Plan. Being prepared for a fire is great, but it's even better if you can prevent the fire in the first place. Obviously, there's no way to make your home completely fireproof -- at least, not yet. But there are steps you can take to ensure that your risk of fires is reduced.

  • Monitoring the Stove. Fire prevention professionals will tell you that you should never leave the stove unattended when cooking. The Pennsylvania Fire Commissioner's office recommends turning the stove off should you step away. Of course, that's sounds great, but we all know it's easy to get distracted -- and even easier for youngsters, seniors, and people with cognitive disabilities. Stove Stopper has a motion sensor built in to make sure that the stove is being attended, and can automatically shut the stove off if it's left unattended. This permits you and precious ones to use the stove safely, while reducing the risk of fire.
  • Electrical Safety. Check electric blankets to make sure they conform to safety standards. Don't buy electric blankets that lack overheating protection, and don't wash them repeatedly -- this can damage the blankets. It sounds obvious, but if an appliance smells funny, or appears to emit smoke, unplug it immediately. And don't try to jam everything into one extension cord -- it may have been funny in A Christmas Story, but it makes a fire much more likely.
  • Smoking. Smoking is dangerous for you no matter what, but smoking in bed can kill you quickly. Quite simply, you've got something that's on fire in your bed. If you go to sleep, you're going to set something else ablaze. This holds true for smoking under the influence of alcohol or prescription medications that cause drowsiness.
  • Heating. Have your furnace and chimneys inspected once a year. If you use heating oil or wood, don't store it indoors; keep it outside in a detached shed or storage area.
  • Space Heaters. July isn't the time to wory about space heaters, but in a few short months, people will be using them again. If you're using space heaters, keep them at least 3 feet away from anything combustable, and never use space heaters to dry clothing.

Following these safety tips will considerably reduce your risk of fire, but even with perfect planning and prevention, you still may find yourself confronted by fire. Next week, we'll take a glance at what you should do in a fire emergency.

Image Credit: Sam Beebe/Ecotrust

FireOver 1200 Americans age 65 and older die in fires each year. What can you do to prepare yourself or your loved ones for the possiblility of a fire? The Pennsylvania State Fire Commissioner offers five recommendations for a fire preparedness plan for the elderly.

  • Know where the nearest emergency exit is. This is important whether you're at home, visiting friends, or out and about. Knowing where the nearest exit is saves you from having to find it amid the smoke and chaos of a fire.
  • Pay attention to safety and design guidelines. Make sure walkways and doorways are clear, and wide enough to accomodate any assistive devices required for someone with mobility impairment.
  • Install smoke alarms and other safety equipment. A smoke alarm can be the difference between life and death. Having a functional alarm with fresh batteries gives you the best chance of getting up and getting out before it's too late. Other anti-fire devices, such as sprinkler systems and Stove Stopper, can help to prevent a fire, or douse it before it spreads.
  • Plan and Practice Escape Plans. It's important to know what to do in a fire -- if you've practiced your safety plan, it will be automatic should disaster strike. For good information about fire preparedness planning, visit the U.S. Fire Administration website.
  • Work with the fire department. If you or a loved one needs special assistance, contact the fire department to make them aware of that. Your local fire department can also help with fire preparedness, as well as with mapping out potential escape routes.

Fire preparedness planning can help save lives. Being aware of the danger fire poses and planning for it gives you the best chance to avoid it. Tomorrow, we'll take a look at five things you can do to prevent fires.

Image Credit: Stock.Xchng

Old Couple Macundo StockXChange

A piot program in Baltimore is helping seniors stay in their homes, allowing them to remain more independent for a longer period of time.

The CAPABLE project -- short for Community Aging in Place, Advancing Better Lives for Elders -- aims to provide assistive repairs and modifications to the homes of low-income seniors, in order to allow them to continue to function at home.

This isn't simply altruism, though it will certainly benefit seniors. The hope is that the aid will help keep seniors at home who would otherwise be forced into a nursing home or other care facility. If they can remain in their homes, it will reduce the amount of money that Medicare and Medicaid must pay out.

As NBC's Today Show reported, the move not only could help reduce costs, but also makes seniors happier. 

Whether it is the cost or emotional ties, many people grow old in the same home where they spent their younger, more agile years. An AARP survey in 2010 found nearly 90 percent of seniors wanted to remain in their current home for as long as possible.

Yet government figures show nearly 1 in 5 seniors living in the community have trouble with at least one activity of daily living, such as walking or bathing.

Assistive techonologies such as pendant alarms and stove fire prevention units can help provide for seniors' safety. And visits from a licensed health care professional can help seniors with sometimes confusing and difficult medication schedules.

The pilot program in Baltimore is being watched closely by other states and municipalities. If successful, the program could be emulated nationwide, allowing more seniors the opportunity to age in place, staying in the communities they've been a part of.

Image: Ricardo Santeugini/Stock.Xchng

Happy Independence Day! 2013 is the 237th anniversary of the United States declaring its independence from Britain, and as future President John Adams predicted in 1776, the day is still marked "with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other."

If you're one of those Americans celebrating with fireworks, however, you need to make sure you're being safe. 9,300 people are injured by fireworks every year, and 45 percent of those are children. To avoid ending Independence Day with calamity or fire, here are a few quick fire safety tips to ensure that you can have a safe and fun 4th of July.

1. Make sure all use of fireworks is supervised by a responsible adult. This seems like a no-brainer, and yet every year children are injured because adults allowed them to play with fireworks without adequate supervision. Even "small" fireworks like sparklers can be dangerous; they burn as hot as 2000 degrees Fahrenheit, which is hot enough to melt steel.

2. Keep a water bucker, garden hose, or fire extinguisher on hand. Fireworks are explosives, albeit small ones. An uncontrolled flame can set off multiple fireworks at once, significantly increasing the chances of injury. Having a means of extinguishing the fire readily available makes this less likely, and gives you a better chance of avoiding calamity.

3. Don't try to re-light fireworks that have failed. While it may be disappointing, you don't know for sure that firework doesn't still have a spark working its way through it. You may move to re-light a firework, only to have it go off before you get the chance.

4. Don't drink and shoot off fireworks. Fireworks, like cars, are potentially dangerous. You wouldn't drink and get into a car -- your judgment and reaction time is hurt. So why would you drink and shoot off small explosives? If you're sober, you're more likely to use fireworks responsibly, and more likely to react quickly and carefully if fire breaks out.

5. Hose down fireworks before disposing of and moving them. Just as with re-lighting a firework, you can't know for sure that a firework has burnt itself out just because it looks like it. Moreover, even if your fireworks have all burnt themselves out, they may still be hot enough to start a trash fire. Make sure you hose down fireworks thoroughly before you throw them away; you don't want to discover an extra fire in your garage early on the morning of the 5th of July.

With planning and attention to fire safety, you can enjoy fireworks on the 4th without risking your family's safety. Enjoy a safe and happy Independence Day!

House Fire DVSHome fires cause almost $7 billion dollars a year in damage, and that's not counting the emotional costs of cleaning up. What's worse, many of these fires are preventable. A new report by the National Fire Data Center reveals some sobering facts about the danger presented by fire.

1. Cooking is the leading cause of residential fires. 46 percent of residential building fires were caused by cooking accidents -- over 166,000 fires per year. Cooking fires were also responsible for most non-confined building fires -- fires that weren't able to be immediately contained. 22 percent of non-confined fires started in the kitchen.

2. Most fires occur in the early evening. This shouldn't be surprising. Since a significant number of fires start in the kitchen, it stands to reason that dinnertime -- between 5 and 8 P.M. -- is the peak time for firest to start.

3. Residential Fires kill almost 2500 people every year. They also injure 13,250 people, and as noted above, cause $7 billion in damage.

4. 22 percent of fires occur in homes without smoke alarms. That sounds bad, but it's even worse when you consider that only 3 percent of homes lack smoke alarms. It may seem silly, but if you're willing to take the time to prepare yourself for fire, you're less likely to have to deal with fire in the first place.

Obiously, there's no "magic bullet" that can prevent all fires, but the NFDC's report suggests some common-sense ways to minimize the damage. Make sure you're careful when cooking. Have a smoke detector, and keep it in working oder. Have a safety plan in case a fire does break out. And make sure you've taken steps to ensure that people who might have difficulty with stoves, like children, developmentally disabled adults, and seniors who are aging in place have safeguards in place to help avoid a dangerous and potentially fatal outcome.

Image Source: dvs/Flickr

Two hundred San Diego seniors are working together to help each other age at home. The residents of the San Diego community of Tierrasanta have banded together to help each other maintain their independence longer.

Today, the membership-based village, formed in 2006, provides an essential support system and four daily social activities for people 50 and older, focused on health and wellness, arts and culture and education.

Most events take place at a neighborhood condo clubhouse, which the group rents for $25 per day. Funding comes from $15 monthly membership dues, grants and fundraisers.

Tierrasanta seniors aren't just socializing, though. They're also helping each other through illness.

John Batchelder, Tierrasanta resident for 23 years and the village's care committee chair said he's caught the Village's contagious enthusiasm for healthy living and giving.

"We have a number of people over 90. We have one person who is 101, about to turn 102," said Batchelder. "And I’ve been, and a number of people have been, involved with them in providing rides, and when they get sick, being available with them, and just keeping them involved in this community."

Most seniors prefer to age in place if possible, for obvious reasons. If it's possible for seniors to remain in their home and community, it allows them to remainin independent longer and maintain their identity. It also allows them to avoid feeling like they are burdening their adult children, and avoid the cost of a managed care facility or a nursing home.

Still, aging in place has its risks. As seniors age, health risks and cognitive issues can make it difficult for seniors to live alone safely. That's one reason services like Stove Stopper, and communities like the one in Tierrasanta, are important: they allow seniors to remain at home, but mitigate the dangers that can entail. 

Do you and your family know what you'd do if an emergency strikes? Have you looked at your surroundings to see what you can do to prevent emergencies from threatening in the first place? If not, now's a great time to do so, because once again, it's National Safety Month. 

According to the National Safety Council, 245 people die of unintentional injuries every day. These injuries range from car crashes and fires to choking to slips and falls, and many of them are preventable.

A little bit of planning and awareness can help you avoid some accidents, helping to keep you and your family safe.

  • Keep Hallways Free of Clutter. It seems obvious, but the more items you have in your hallway, the more likely it is you'll trip over them. Keeping hallways clear of clutter can help prevent trips that can lead to injury.
  • Have a Working Smoke Alarm. Make sure you change the batteries regularly, too; batteries should be changed at least once a year. It's a good idea to pick a meaningful day -- a birthday, holiday, or anniversary -- to change the batteries.
  • Chew Carefully! It may sound silly to worry about chewing your food. Aren't you an adult? Well, yes, but that doesn't mean choking isn't a danger, especially for the elderly. In fact, for people over 76 years old, choking is the third-leading cause of accidental death. Make sure that your elderly relatives have dentures that fit snugly, and that they don't suffer from any medical issues that could hinder swallowing.
  • Have a Fire Safety Plan. If a fire does break out, know where you and your family are to go. It's especially important to think through exit strategies for kids and vulnerable adults. If your elderly relative is living at home, look into assistive technologies like Stove Stopper, which can help them to age in place safely.
  • Don't Text and Drive. This one's obvious. You can't watch the road and watch your phone at the same time. No matter how important you think that text is, it can wait until you've stopped.

Obviously, a short article can't possibly cover everything you need to know about home safety. For more information, check out the National Safety Council's page on home safety, or request Stove Stopper's free guide to kitchen safety at stovestopper.com.

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