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Why Seniors Are at Risk For Accidental Poisoning

National Poison Prevention Week, which takes place the third week of March, raises awareness of poison prevention nationwide, an opportunity to highlight the dangers of poisonings for people of all ages while promoting community involvement in poisoning prevention. Each year, America‚Äôs 55 poison centers receive millions of calls, most of which are from people who have come into contact with dangerous substances; some of the calls are to seek information. If you suspect you have ingested something you haven’t, or you think a loved one in hospice in Alameda County and elsewhere may have, call your local poison center at 1-800-222-1222.

Most poisonings are accidental. About 77 percent of poison exposures reported to poison centers in the U.S. in 2018 were unintentional, 19 percent were intentional, and three percent were adverse reactions. In children under six years old, 99.4 percent of exposures are unintentional, compared with 33 percent of teen exposures and 60 percent of adult exposures. However, seniors, in particular, are at a higher risk for accidental poisoning than younger adults and teens.

The elderly are vulnerable because they are often left by themselves for long periods of time and aren’t under constant observation. If they have an accident, they may not realize it or call help immediately, due to a lack of knowledge of what happened or due to feeling ashamed. Most poisonings — more than 90 percent in fact — happen in the home, specifically the kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom.

Older Adults and Medicine Safety

As people get older, the more health concerns they have, the more doctors they see, and the more medicines they need. Did you know that most adults over the age of 65 take at least five different medicines every day and that most who take prescription medicines also use over-the-counter medicines, dietary supplements, or both? Your aging parent, spouse or other loved one takes all these medications to stay healthy, but every time they add on a medication, there is a higher likelihood for risks and mistakes.

In fact, medicine mishaps such as side effects and interactions cause more than 700,000 ER visits each year, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. Older adults are twice as likely as other people to visit the ER for problems related to their medicines, and seven times more likely to be hospitalized after such a visit.

However, medications aren’t the only way a person can be accidentally poisoned. Chemicals, household cleaners, and sprays can all have adverse reactions on a person. Indeed, a poison is anything that can harm a person if used in the wrong way, used by the wrong person or used in the wrong amount. Some poisons are harmful if they come into direct contact with the eyes or skin, while others are toxic if you swallow them or breathe them in. Poisons come in four forms:

  • Solids (i.e., pain medicine pills or tablets)
  • Liquids (i.e., household cleaners, bleach)
  • Sprays (i.e., spray cleaners)
  • Gases (i.e., carbon monoxide)

How to Keep Seniors Safe

If you have a loved one who is going through hospice or an aging parent for example who lives alone at home, it’s important to ensure they stay safe. Here are some tips on avoiding accidental poisoning:

  • Keep all medicines, as well as potentially poisonous substances, in locked cabinets or out of the reach of your senior loved ones.
  • Keep medicines in their original containers, make sure they are labeled properly, and store them appropriately.
  • Do not share prescription medicines. If your loved one is taking more than one medication at a time, check with their health care provider, pharmacist, or call the toll-free Poison Helpline (1-800-222-1222) to learn more about possible drug interactions.
  • In fact, place the local poison control number in, on or near the phone.
  • Install a carbon monoxide alarm in every bedroom of the home.
  • Make sure appliances, furnaces, fireplaces, and wood-burning stoves are working properly all year long.
  • Use child-resistant packaging, especially if grandchildren will be visiting. Replace caps securely: of kids treated in an ER for medical poisoning, 38 percent got into a grandparent’s medicine stash.
  • Store medicines and household products in a different place than food.
  • Take medications in a safe manner. Make sure the lights are on, put on your glasses, and read the label every time before taking the pills. Follow instructions exactly.
  • If your senior loved one is forgetful, set alarms for medication reminders. Additionally, use pill separators and containers to keep track of daily doses.
  • Use household products as directed. If you mix products, dangerous gases can be released.
  • Keep an up-to-date list of all of the medicines being taken, including prescription medicine, over-the-counter medicine, vitamins, and supplements. Have this list handy whenever visiting the pharmacy or seeing the doctor.

Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice

Our hospice care team is in constant communication with one another to ensure no side effects are possible with the medications being taken, and that they are administered in a safe and correct manner. To learn more, contact us at 888-978-1306.