Have you checked out your first aid kit lately? Do you even have one?
I realized the benefit of having a well-stocked first aid kit when I got a pretty impressive splinter lodged in my finger. All I had available to help the situation was water and paper towels. A little disinfectant goes a long way.
The new and improved first aid kits pretty much have a treatment for every ailment. The kits are certainly not your basic aspirin-and-bandages combo of years past. However, basic first aid is much more than a state-of-the-art kit.
While everyone should have a working knowledge of first aid, seniors need to be especially vigilant because those who are getting older typically are slowing down a bit and may have the complications of failing eyesight and lessening agility.
For instance, poisoning — usually associated with small children — also can be a problem for the elderly. An older person who has downsized and is living in a small space might store cleaners and food near each other when cupboards are limited. Adding poor eyesight into the mix can make it fairly easy to confuse one with the other, especially if the containers are similar in size and shape.
Should this happen, call the Northern New England Poison Center at 800-222-1222 rather than your primary care provider, because the response will be faster. Getting a message to the doctor can take too long, while the poison center staff can just type the information into a computer and instruct you on what course to take. Always follow their directions to the letter as it could save your life. Then call your doctor.
Don’t automatically vomit because, depending on the substance swallowed, more damage could be done.
Poisoning also can be caused by prescription drug overdoses. Sometimes elders forget they have taken their medicine, so they take it again. Or they might take a spouse’s pills by accident. To avoid these scenarios, keep food and cleaning supplies in different cabinets and invest in pillboxes that separate each day’s dose of medicine.
Also, be sure to keep a current list of all medications on hand. Paramedics will need this information in case of an emergency.
Choking is another problem for seniors because the functionality of an aging digestive system slows with the passage of time. Consequently, the food takes longer to process.
Cutting up food — especially meat products — into small pieces, making sure dentures are secure, eating slowly and chewing each bite thoroughly before swallowing can help prevent choking.
Both the elderly and their caregivers should learn the Heimlich maneuver. Older people living alone can “Heimlich” themselves by leaning over the back of a chair or the corner of a table, but they really should find a class or have someone teach them how to do the procedure correctly, because it can be life-saving.
Burns can be especially dangerous for the elderly because of an old wives’ tale that recommends treating them with butter. This is the absolute worst thing a person could do because butter seals in the heat and can make a burn much worse.
It’s best to use cool water, and do not break blisters, as they keep the burned tissue clean and free from infection. If the burn is large, appears deep and skin layers are destroyed, call an ambulance immediately.
Learning some first aid, using common sense and calling an ambulance when you need help are good ways to stay well. And get yourself a good first aid kit. It’s comprehensive and immediate help in an organized box.
Carol Higgins Taylor is director of communications at Eastern Area Agency on Aging. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. For information on EAAA, call 941-2865, toll-free 800-432-7812, email email@example.com or visit http://www.EAAA.org. TTY 992-0150.