I’ve mentioned before that my father kept his apartment temperature at a blistering 78 degrees year ‘round. Like many seniors, he seemed to be constantly cold, so when winter came around, he dragged out his (very old) electric blanket.
That made me wonder are electric blankets safe for elderly? Electric blankets can be dangerous for seniors with cognitive issues like dementia or Alzheimer’s or for those who are incontinent. They are unsafe for people with Parkinson’s, diabetes, or any paralysis. Seniors may get burned by an electric blanket and should discard one that’s over ten years old.
The reasons that electric blankets are unsafe for seniors are:
- Elderly people often have impaired temperature receptors in their skin or a delayed ability to realize they have gotten overheated. This can lead to burns if the blanket temperature is set too high.
- Those with a mobility risk may roll over on the blanket, which can bend or break the wires. Damaged wires may cause the blanket to short out and catch on fire.
- Electric blankets are difficult to wash and should not be used by seniors who are incontinent.
- Seniors who have cognitive issues may not understand the temperature controls and settings. They may turn up an electric blanket too high without realizing they can get burned.
- Elders who have illnesses or physical issues that affect their nerves should avoid an electric blanket. I’m talking about diabetes, paralysis of any limb or body part after a stroke, Parkinson’s, etc. This is because they may have become insensitive to heat – they may not feel a high temperature setting, so they could get burned by an electric blanket.
- An electric blanket that is being used on a hospital bed or other adjustable bed could get pinched in the fold of the bed. This could damage the wires and lead to a fire.
Heating pads and electric blankets cause almost 500 fires each year. Almost all of these fires involve electric blankets that are more than ten years old. –Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI)
When I examined my Dad’s electric blanket, I was horrified to see that it was probably as old as I was! If your elderly parent’s electric blanket is more than 10 years old, be adamant about discarding it. Worn fabric, frayed plugs, and the likelihood of broken wires make it too dangerous to use.
If the blanket is under 10 years old, consider checking with the Consumer Product Safety Commission to see whether or not it has been recalled.
Are Electric Blankets Safe With Pacemakers?
Because some electrical devices can interfere with or disrupt the functioning of a pacemaker or other implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD), there is a question of whether an electric blanket could do that, too.
Well, you can probably rest a little easier on that subject because the Mayo Clinic says, “Devices that are unlikely to interfere with your pacemaker include microwave ovens, televisions and remote controls, radios, toasters, electric blankets, electric shavers, and electric drills.”
In addition, the American Heart Association says that an electric blanket “poses little to no risk.” They explain that, “In general, consumer appliances and electronics don’t affect the performance of ICDs and pacemakers. On rare occasions, some of these devices may inhibit pacemakers by a single beat. But the pacemaker’s regular signals are quickly restored.”
That being said, it’s always best to check with the blanket’s manufacturer for guidance on its safety if used with a pacemaker. And, to be doubly safe, check with your senior loved one’s cardiologist or the surgeon who implanted the device to be sure it won’t interact with an electric blanket.
Safety Tips For Using An Electric Blanket
Even though I’m telling you that it isn’t safe for the elderly to use an electric blanket, I know there will be those who will still use one anyway. They will see it as a cheaper way to stay warm at night (they don’t have to run the heater as much) or maybe they don’t want to part with something that still works.
In cases like these, try to get your parent to just use the blanket to warm the bed initially. They can do that, and then turn it off when they get into bed. After that, using the alternatives mentioned in the next section (below) will keep them warm at night.
However, if they are still insistent on using an electric blanket during the night – short of taking it away, the best you can do is offer some safety tips:
- Don’t crease the blanket (wires can break or get damaged, which could lead to a short and cause a fire). The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) advises against tucking the blanket in for this reason.
- When storing it, fold it as little as possible and don’t set anything on top of it.
- When taking it back out for use during the winter, inspect the blanket before plugging it in or turning it on. Be sure there are no holes in the blanket, no wires sticking out or broken, and no crimped areas. Don’t use an electric blanket that has signs of damage like this.
- Never use a wet electric blanket and NEVER turn the blanket on in order to dry it if it is wet! Also, if the blanket is wet, don’t use the spin cycle on a washer to get the water out. The spinning can twist and damage the wires.
- Don’t iron it, dry clean it, or use a cleaning fluid on an electric blanket. Any of these actions could melt or damage the insulation around the wires.
- Discard an electric blanket that makes a buzzing noise when it’s on or one that has a burning smell or emits an “electrical” odor.
- Using an electric blanket without running the heat in the room can cause the blanket’s sensors to raise the temperature of the blanket to compensate – resulting in possible burns.
- The ESFI advises, “Do not allow anything on top of a heating pad or electric blanket when it is in use. When covered by anything, including other blankets or pets, electric blankets may overheat.
- The ESFI also recommends that an electric blanket NOT be used while sleeping. If your loved one does this anyhow, try to replace the blanket with one that has a timer or an automatic shutoff (better yet, just take the blanket away from them!).
- Keep pets off the blanket – their nails or claws could rip or tear the fabric and expose or break the wires.
- Don’t use a heated mattress pad and an electric blanket at the same or they may cause overheating.
Warm Blankets For Elderly, Plus Electric Blanket Alternatives
There are several alternatives to electric blankets that will help keep an elderly person warm and immeasurably safer:
Flannel sheets keep body heat in place around a sleeping person, yet are breathable if they are made of cotton. They are machine washable and pet-friendly. Overall, flannel sheets are a great choice for seniors, especially if incontinence is a concern and they will need to be washed frequently.
One possible disadvantage is that they can be heavier than regular sheets, which might not be a good choice for someone who has mobility challenges.
Down comforters keep sleepers warm without weighing them down. Many are now hypoallergenic, but you can also get a down-alternative fiberfill comforter if you are concerned about an elderly parent’s allergies to feathers.
Comfort Mate Bed Warmer Non-electric Water Powered Bed Warming Mattress Topper is like a heated mattress pad, but it circulates warm water instead of using electrical coils and wires.
It uses a controller to regulate temperature and has a timer that will operate the system for 3 to 12 hours. It uses seven interrelated safety systems to help keep sleepers safe. It also can be folded up with no worries of damaging wires like with an electric blanket.
One drawback is that the heating unit needs to be on a nearby bedside table. Also, reviewers say they have to fill the water in the tubes about every three to four weeks. Another disadvantage is that it is fairly expensive (twin bed size runs about $350 online).
Hot water bottles can be used to warm the bed before your parent gets in at night. After heating the sleeping area, the hot water bottle can be pushed to the bottom of the bed to keep someone’s feet warm.
A disadvantage would be that the user has to pour in very hot water, so I would worry about them burning their fingers if they were shaky. It should not be used in a microwave to heat the water. Also, hot water bottles should be wrapped in a towel (if they don’t come with a cover) to prevent burns.
Additionally, a senior with arthritic fingers may not be able to tighten the cap enough to prevent it from leaking during the night.
A microwaveable corn-filled heating pad would solve most of the problems that come with a hot water bottle, although they could cause burns if heated too long in a microwave.
Other options that can help seniors sleep warmer include thermal underwear, lightweight fleece vests, and vests that reflect body heat back to the wearer.