Driving down the fire risk for social tenants with dementia

As part of 2021’s Dementia Action Week, Claire O’Meara, National Account Manager for FRS & Utilities at FireAngel, discusses how technology can help safeguard tenants with dementia.

Dementia referrals and diagnosis rates have dropped during the pandemic. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t affecting new people – more than 200,000 will develop dementia in 2021.

In the UK, 1 in 14 people over 65 already suffer with dementia. And with more than a quarter of England’s local authority and housing association stock home to someone over 65, that means a significant proportion of social housing tenants have, or will be affected by, dementia.

Most people want to stay in their homes for as long as possible before moving to residential or specialist care – but that requires a safe environment to live in, with the right support. For this year’s Dementia Action Week, we’ve been thinking about how social housing providers can help safeguard their high-risk tenants and prevent fires.

Dementia puts people at greater risk

Dementia can make independent living more difficult and fire risk is a major concern. 

People suffering from dementia will sometimes revert to old habits. For example, it’s common for someone with dementia to forget they have an electric kettle, and put it on the stovetop as if it was a traditional style kettle. Or, they might try to use an open fire, even if they don’t normally use one.

Fires can also be caused by something as simple as leaving an oven, heater, or electric blanket on for too long – easy for someone with memory problems to forget as they move between rooms or go to bed for the night. 

Safeguarding and reducing fire risk

In multiple-occupancy houses, terraced homes, and high-rise buildings, a fire doesn’t just put the person with dementia at risk – potentially, hundreds of lives could be affected by a major fire.

To help keep social tenants with dementia safe – and protect those who live around them – social housing providers need to ensure their properties provide comprehensive fire safety measures.

That includes standard practices like completing a risk assessment of the property, and installing frequently tested smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors. There’s also been a lot of discussion recently over evacuation plans. Most social housing buildings with multiple tenants will have their own routes and practices for evacuating in the event of a fire – but should vulnerable tenants have their own, specific plan?

There’s some disagreement among agencies. The most recent advice from the British Standards Institution (BSI) says no – it’s not usually feasible for disabled people to receive specific plans for what to do if a fire breaks out. However, that directly contradicts recommendations from the phase one report of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry. It states that “the owner and manager of every residential high-rise be legally required to prepare personal emergency evacuation plans for all residents whose ability to self-evacuate may be compromised”.

Dame Judith Hackitt’s independent Building a Safer Future report specified the need for “provisions incorporated into the building to facilitate the evacuation of disabled and other potentially vulnerable people”. With new BSI guidance expected by the end of the year in response to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry’s objection, social housing owners should be ready to give their tenants extra support wherever required.

A Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan might support a vulnerable tenant if they need to leave their building – but what about ways to help reduce fire risk entirely?

Using technology to identify and protect vulnerable tenants 

There are new, more intelligent ways to help tenants, building managers, and landlords cut fire risk in social housing.

The Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence can help create a connected environment where live data and risk factor information can be monitored remotely. 

This connected network, alongside remote monitoring, is ideal for protecting people who might struggle to raise the alarm if a fire breaks out in their home, but can also flag trends that may be due to a decline in resident health linked to an illness or diseases such as dementia.

Technologies that are already familiar to many elderly tenants, such as panic buttons or fall detectors, can be combined with new sensors that build on traditional fire alarms and carbon monoxide detectors to provide holistic support. For example, a heat alarm installed in a kitchen will raise the alarm if a build-up in temperature that is linked to fire, perhaps from an unattended pan, is detected. However, if a Stove Guard is fitted to the stove the power supply would be turned off before the temperature reached a critical level and a fire ignited.

With the right solution to bring these sensors and smart devices together, social landlords can build a tailored IoT network to detect fire, carbon monoxide, and temperature. It can send rapid, detailed alerts if it registers heat, smoke, or gas – so even if a tenant is unable to call for help themselves, the fire service can be contacted and dispatched quickly.

FireAngel Connected is a purpose-built cloud solution for fire detection and prevention, with a central dashboard where social housing providers can access device and sensor data. It’s connected via cellular signals for higher reliability than WiFi, to ensure people are kept safe even if the internet goes down.

The built-in FireAngel Predict™ capability can also monitor this data over time, highlighting trends, and help landlords know when to check in with their tenants. For example, it can show if their alarm is being triggered frequently due to electrical appliances overheating, food being left in the oven too long, or other common behaviours consistent with dementia.

By integrating with other telecare systems, solutions like FireAngel Connected can help provide holistic care and support for vulnerable tenants. Technology can help highlight unidentified vulnerable tenants, and not just those with dementia. Interactions with family and care providers are limited right now, so someone showing the early signs of illness can easily slip through the gaps. By using technology to our advantage, we can all help ensure everyone gets the help they need, when they need it.

To learn more about Dementia Action Week, visit the Alzheimer’s Society website. And to find out more about FireAngel Connected, explore the solution hub.