Electrical Hazards and Safety

Electrical outlets and extension cords can present hazards for serious fire and shock. For example, as you can see in this photo, a regular extension cord is used for the space heater – a very high wattage appliance – which can cause a serious fire. Hover over any of the hazards for practical solutions to these problems.

Overloaded Outlets

Plugging too many appliances into one outlet is a common and dangerous practice, one that can cause overheating – and a serious fire. If you’re worried about a possible fire, call an electric immediately – especially if the outlet is warm to the touch. If there is black around the outlets, there is a problem. Have an electrician inspect and install new outlets where necessary. Sometimes this is the only safe solution and it can be done less expensively if the wiring is surface mounted along the baseboard in a thin metal cable box.

All extension cords should be replaced with power strip extension cords.  Commonly used for computer equipment, these cords (available in lengths up to 15 feet) have a built-in circuit breaker that automatically turns the power off when the cord is overloaded.

Wrong Extension Cord

Serious household fires can occur when a lightweight household extension cord is used for a high wattage appliance, such as a space heater, air-conditioner, or freezer. Fire personnel advise not to use extension cords with high wattage appliances, especially space heaters. But if absolutely necessary, they recommend using only a heavy-duty extension cord – wired to take the higher wattage, which a regular lightweight cord is not.

Check existing extension cords that are plugged into any high wattage appliance. Heavy-duty cords have a very thick rubber casing. Check if the cord still has the “heavy duty” label attached. You should replace lightweight cords and add new outlets. If any high wattage appliances are plugged into a lightweight “household” extension cords, take immediate action. Unplug and replace with a heavy-duty cord rated for that appliance or, preferably, have new outlets installed.

Old, Frayed Wires

Over time, cords can fray and exposed wiring can be deadly. Cords placed under carpets are especially dangerous, as the wires can become worn overheating can occur. Life-threatening fires can occur this way, so remove them immediately and replace all frayed cords and wiring.

Flammables on Top of Cords

Clutter is a serious problem for someone with dementia. You’ll need to keep a watchful eye on the person’s living space, since papers and other flammables can easily accumulate. You should remove on an ongoing basis any newspapers, clothes, or other flammables that can cause fires when placed on top of wires or extension cords. And see this article about hoarding for more information on how to deal with this challenging behavior.

Exposed Outlets

Exposed electrical outlets can present safety hazards for people in mid-or late-stage dementia, especially those who fiddle with objects. One thing you can do is to insert childproof plugs into outlets that aren’t being used and replace outlet covers with child-safety covers that are difficult for individuals with dementia to use.