Fire safety Innovations for People Affected by Dementia

Bournemouth University Dementia Institute (BUDI) and Dorset Fire and Rescue Service (DWFRS) worked on a project called ‘Fire safety Innovations for People Affected by Dementia’. The project was funded by Dorset County Council.

The Aims of the Project

  • To develop guidance that can be used nationally and internationally to help people affected by memory problems or dementia to be safer in their homes
  • To enhance the quality of life of people affected by dementia by enabling them to live independently in their own homes for longer
  • To create a training package that will ensure fire and rescue staff and volunteers, and other practitioners who visit people in their own homes, are better equipped to work with people affected by dementia to ensure they are as safe as possible from fire risk.
HFSC elderly - DDFRS
Fire Officer from Hampshire Fire & Rescue giving safety advice

What the Project Found?          

Dr Michelle Hewerd and Dr Fiona Kelly conducted focus groups and surveys and summarised the following results

Experiences of home fire risks

People with memory loss or dementia are likely to be involved in accidental fires in the home, and fire fatalities amongst this group are often caused by smoking or cooking

There were four types of fire risk identified by professionals: those related to a person’s past role or actions (i.e. smoking in bed, electrical engineer doing own electrics): using appliances inappropriately (i.e. electric kettle on gas hob, metal trays in microwave): related to memory impairment (i.e. forgetting to turn off heater, leaving food in oven, not responding to smoke detector): and the person’s home environment (i.e. overloaded plug sockets, clutter, drying washing too close to fire).

People with dementia and family carers tended to focus on non-fire related safety risks, however, with probing, some identified fire hazards, including sitting too close to or falling into open or electric fires, using metal containers in microwaves, candles, forgetting to put cigarettes out, leaving the cooker or gas on or putting an electric kettle on a gas hob.

Ways to reduce home fire safety risks

People with dementia and family carers identified decluttering, avoiding trip hazards, installing smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and relying on observant neighbours as ways of staying safe at home.

Professionals identified four ways to reduce home fire safety risks: a person-centred approach (i.e. no one size fits all approach, individual risk assessment, repetition of key messages); partnerships to identify vulnerable households (to help identify vulnerable people and assist crews at incidents, fire service become involved in multiagency teams that provide care); assistive technology in the home environment (i.e. flood detectors, gas shut off values, telecare linked smoke detectors); and dementia aware prevention i.e. early intervention to help future proof homes, awareness that risks can change over time as dementia progresses, need to educate people affected by dementia and professionals about fire risks).

Professionals suggested that it could be challenging to work with people with dementia. Sometimes people may not have accepted their diagnosis and refuse support offered, others may not have received a diagnosis and so are not identified ‘in the system’.

Resources currently provided

FRSs provide guidance to older people: leaflets, talks to groups, signposting to other organisations and large print booklets. Fire safety messages are written in plain English and promote electrical safety, good housekeeping, cooking safety, as well as advice on bedtime routines.

Some FRSs provide dementia specific resources such as a checklist fridge magnet with advice on how to keep safe at night and leaflets with fewer words and more pictures. Others use the resources designed for older people in general.

FRSs were less likely to offer professionals working with people with dementia and/or their carers dementia-specific fire safety guidance.

What people and professionals would like to know more about?

Professionals want better knowledge of assistive technology and who is responsible for funding and installing it.

Family carers want information that is accessible in face to face or leaflet form

Information for people with dementia is more easily digested in plain English, accessible font and including illustrations. Laminated leaflets are wipe clean and stand out against other leaflets so likely to be kept.

FRSs would find it useful to know more about: communicating with people affected by dementia; signposting people affected by dementia to appropriate information and support; best practice and legal aspects of assisting/assessing people with dementia; using visual reminders/ signs/ diagrams for fire safety.

The next stage of the project will be to establish if the results of this project have led to any changes both nationally and locally and the findings may be used to apply for further funding for new projects. Full details of the findings can be found in this document:

Fire Safety Innovations – focus group and survey findings final.

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