Preventing burns and other injuries among the elderly

Netcare Injury Prevention programme committed to helping senior citizens

Monday, January 11 2016

“In recent weeks alone, Netcare Milpark Hospital’s burns unit has admitted four elderly patients who sustained severe burns due to bath water which was too hot,” says René Grobler, trauma programme manager at Netcare Milpark Hospital. “The tragedy is, many injuries of this nature can be prevented with simple precautions.”

According to Grobler many of the patients admitted for burns to Netcare hospitals nationally are burnt
by hot water, yet many people do not appreciate the risks associated with this household necessity. She cautions that greater care should be taken by elderly people at bath time.  

“Older people are generally more vulnerable as they are often unable to get out of a scalding hot bath, and the longer they are exposed to too hot water, the greater the damage to the tissue. They often cannot feel the true extent of the heat initially and, by the time the scalding sensation is experienced, the damage is already done,” she adds.

Netcare Milpark Hospital’s Academic and accredited level 1  trauma centre and the Trauma Society of South Africa are collaborating in the Netcare trauma injury prevention (TIP) programme which is actively working to change traumatic injuries through various information sharing programmes which is directed at people from all walks of life.

“We understand only too well that older people would like to maintain their independence and quality of life for as long as possible. We are looking to assist in this regard by sharing injury prevention information among the elderly, especially with regards to burns and burn related injuries,” Grobler explains.

Senior citizens must be made aware of factors that might increase their risk for sustaining burns injuries. These factors may include deteriorating vision, hearing, and sensation; decreased mobility and dexterity; as well as medication and medical conditions that can put them at risk.

“Elderly burns patients do not have the same resilience as children and younger adults in coping with the injuries sustained during a burn,” she adds.  Conditions commonly affecting the elderly like heart disease, emphysema, diabetes, kidney disease, arthritis, and other chronic conditions, make healing difficult.

Also, with age, the skin becomes thinner and elasticity decreases as a result of less subcutaneous fat, resulting in deeper and more severe burn wounds. Medical factors such as peripheral neuropathy can cause older patients to fail to realise they are sustaining burns until it is too late. This is rather prevalent in cases where burns are sustained by getting into a bath where the water is too hot.

Even when they are clearly not to blame, family members often feel guilty after an elderly family member sustains a burn injury. “Families can help to prevent such incidences by conducting home inspections to help older adults understand how they can better protect themselves,” Grobler notes.

Netcare Milpark Hospital has offered the following tips for senior citizens to prevent injuries:

  • Make sure that there are no tripping or falling hazards in and around your home, especially ones blocking an escape route.
  • It is not recommended for any person, especially an elderly person, to smoke. However, if you do smoke, makes sure to look out for any fire hazards around you and stay clear of items such as an oxygen tank that are heat and fire sensitive.
  • Make sure that, when you run a bath or open a shower, to start with the cold water en than gradually add hot water to reach the desired temperature.
  • As an extra precaution, it is wise to keep the geyser in your home below 49 degrees Celsius.
  • Avoid loose clothing while cooking as it could catch on the side of pots or handles of pans on the stove. Also, ensure that children and pets are not in the way when you are cooking as it could lead to tripping and falling.


Notes to editors

Netcare Milpark Hospital’s trauma and burns units are, collectively, accredited as a Level 1 trauma centre by the Trauma Society of South Africa.  It was the first private hospital to have achieved this accolade and one of only two private hospitals with a level  1 trauma accreditation; the other being Netcare Union Hospital in Alberton.

The burns unit, which opened six years ago, is the only such dedicated private facility in South Africa and receives referrals from all over Africa.

The burns unit is comprised of eight beds including intensive care beds, and a dedicated burns theatre within the unit. Infection presents a major risk in serious burns cases, and the facility has been designed to prevent cross infection, with each patient being cared for in their own isolation room to prevent the spread of airborne germs.

Burns treatment is highly specialised, requiring a multi-disciplinary team of specialists, including renal and reconstructive expertise as well as other healthcare professionals including trauma counsellors who support patients, their families and the unit’s staff members.

Each patient in the burns unit receives dedicated nursing care 24 hours a day, adhering to strict infection prevention protocols.

Issued by:    Martina Nicholson Associates (MNA) on behalf of Netcare Milpark Hospital
Contact:    Martina Nicholson, Graeme Swinney, Meggan Saville or Pieter Rossouw
Telephone:    (011) 469 3016
Email:    [email protected], [email protected], [email protected] or [email protected]