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Why Nursing Homes Need Clean Air, and What You Can Do to Help

Air quality is gaining more attention in America and across the globe. It’s well established that clean air results in healthier people of all ages – especially seniors.

We owe a lot to the elderly people in our lives. Whether they are parents, grandparents, or life-long friends, they deserve the best possible care and comfort.

So, how do our elderly loved ones, especially those living in senior-care facilities and nursing homes, handle air quality?

For that matter, what can nursing homes, loved ones, and caregivers do to ensure clean air for senior citizens?

Nursing Home Air Quality

The air quality in nursing homes and assisted living centers is gaining more attention as our population continues to increase in age and we learn more about health issues related to indoor air quality.

According to the CDC, the number of Americans in nursing facilities is expected to increase from 15 million in 2000 to 27 million in 2050. This growth is mostly due to our aging population and makes the health and safety of nursing homes even more important.

Respiratory Health and Seniors

Lung health should be a concern for everyone, regardless of age, but elderly individuals and the people who care for them should be particularly aware of potential risks affecting their respiratory systems.

According to Everyday Health, respiratory issues are the fourth-largest health concern for seniors and the third-largest cause of death among the elderly. Arthritis is the most common health concern, but it doesn’t cause death, only pain and discomfort.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that people 65 and older are more at-risk for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. They also list possible complications outside of demographics.

For example, they say that activity limitations, the inability to work, a need for special oxygen equipment, and no engagement in social activities all increase the risk of COPD.

It’s no secret that all of the complications listed above are more prevalent among elderly. But what about other respiratory issues such as asthma or allergies?

How Asthma Affects the Elderly

Asthma, for example, is often considered a childhood disease, but this condition can affect elderly individuals and has the potential for doing greater harm among seniors.

According to an article titled Asthma in the Elderly written by Australian researchers, asthma can be more harmful to seniors, not necessarily because the symptoms are worse, but because the response can be insufficient.

The article says that “people over age 65 with asthma have fewer symptoms of asthma,” but inhalers and other prevention measures are “often not taken adequately because of physical or cognitive disability.”

There are also concerns with medication side-effects, action plans, and complications of asthma related to declining lung strength and function.

The Impact of Allergies

Allergies in elderly patients also creates more complications for symptoms and treatments.

If an elderly person is dealing with allergies, there can be challenges related to medications, as allergy medicine used in a younger person could interact with prescribed medication.

While most facilities are free of pollen, there could be airborne allergens such as cleaning chemicals, mold spores, pet dander, and fumes from the facility’s kitchen, all of which can irritate lungs and trigger allergic reactions.

Elderly individuals and caregivers, including friends, family members, and long-term care professionals, should be concerned about the respiratory health of seniors. This means making both individual and environmental steps.

By individual, we mean taking measures that ensure safe respiratory health for a specific person. For example, you can take measures to improve the response of an asthma attack for a senior.

By environmental, we mean taking measures to improve the air that seniors breathe. The obvious step is air purification, but that’s not the only measure you can take.

But first, let’s take a closer look at the state of indoor air in nursing homes to see what problems, if any, exist. With this knowledge, we can then move to a clear, specific plan.

Nursing Home Indoor Air: What Do We Know?

The truth is, getting clear, precise information on the air quality of air in long-term care facilities can be difficult. This is largely because each facility is different and the information we have available is sparse.

However, there are some source of information that we can use as a guide. To gain insights into the effect of air quality on nursing home health, a recent study was conducted by the European Respiratory Journal.

While the study was not conducted in the United States, it has become one of the most important references for the quality of air and the potential for hazardous conditions in nursing homes.

This study consisted of three parts:
  • Medical examinations on 600 elderly people from 50 nursing homes across Europe.
  • Elderly participants also completed a questionnaire, which would hopefully give researchers insight on the relationship between certain factors and an individual’s health.
  • Environmental measurements were taken outdoors and indoors, using the same equipment and methods, at each nursing home. They tested for a variety of small particles, as well as several gases, including formaldehyde, ozone, and NO2.
The study explored the presence of pollutants (environmental measurements), the physical health of elderly residents (the examination), and the perceived comfort of the residents (the survey).

With these three data points, researchers hoped to gain insight into the relationship between common indoor air pollutants and the overall wellbeing of elderly residents in nursing homes.

Here is what they found:
  • Airborne Particles: The small particles were found to be responsible for bouts of wheezing, coughing and loss of breath. Other research has shown fine particles to cause heart health issues.
  • Harmful Gases: Gases such as formaldehyde were shown to increase the cases of COPD. Carbon dioxide was shown to cause breathlessness.
  • The effect of these pollutants on lung health were seen with even low levels of particles and were more pronounced in environments with poor ventilation and air cleaning. This is due to our body’s reduced ability to cope with poor indoor air quality as we become older.

More Studies

There are other studies that demonstrate the need for air quality measures in nursing homes.

One from Brown University was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in February 2012. This study found a connection between ambient air pollution and an increase in the risk of stroke.

Their findings suggest that even measures of air particles that the EPA regards as “safe” could increase the risk of stroke. While this study does not mention elderly or nursing homes, roughly 75% of strokes occur in people over the age of 65.

It seems logical, therefore, that controlling particulate matter should be a concern for nursing homes.

Another study found that cognitive decline in older adults can be accelerated by consistent exposure to particulate air pollution.

Specifically, they found that long-term exposure to air pollution “typically experienced by many individuals in the United States is associated with significantly worse cognitive decline in older women.”

The researchers noted that when it comes to cognitive decline and dementia, almost all the risk factors are not “modifiable.” (In other words, we can’t do anything about them.) Fortunately, air quality is most certainly modifiable.

This research shows what might seem obvious: that pollutants in the air can cause significant discomfort and lead to increases in sickness among elderly individuals living in nursing homes.

While more research is needed on the specifics of how certain chemicals and pollutants cause health issues, the point is clear: clean air is important for seniors living in nursing care facilities.

Improving Air Quality: Tips for Residents and Family Members

As research and, quite frankly, common sense shows, air quality is likely to affect senior citizens. Therefore, monitoring and improving air quality should be a concern for residents and family members, as well as facility management and employees.

If you are living in a nursing care facility, what can you do to improve the air quality in your room and the facility as a whole? If you are a friend or family member of someone in a care facility, what steps can you take to ensure they are receiving the best possible care?

Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to ensure healthier air for everyone in a nursing home. The first step should be communication.

Talk with facility owners, managers, nurses, and employees to learn about measures that have been made to improve air quality. You may be able to influence them into taking measures to reduce air pollutants, which can improve the health of residents.

Feel free to cite some of the above information to make your case that the facility should work to improve air quality.

Inside the room, you can implement a lot of changes to ensure the air in your space is healthier. You can start by adding an air purifier to the room.

One of the best options for small rooms is the mod jr. air purifier. This handy little model fits snugly into small corners or between furniture, yet provides powerful air-cleaning by removing 98% of airborne allergens and particulates.

How to Improve Air Quality: Facility Owners and Managers

There are many ways that facility managers and employees can improve air quality, but we’ve identified three key steps that improve the air quality in assisted living centers.

Let's look at each one in detail:
    • Proper Ventilation: With the use of fans, HVAC systems, and open windows (weather and policy permitting), you can improve ventilation and air circulation, which keeps down the chances of high concentrations for specific pollutants. For example, with gases like carbon dioxide or a carbon monoxide concentration, ventilation will ensure the levels do not impact respiratory health. If your facility purchases new furniture or carpeting, or goes through remodeling, be aware that it can result in increased formaldehyde or other chemicals. In this case ventilation is critical.
    • Replace HVAC Filters Regularly: Your furnaces and air conditioning systems use advanced filters to trap large particles of dust and debris. The purpose of these filters is not to improve the air in the facility, but to keep dust and other particles from clogging or harming the appliances. However, replacing these air filters, which trap dust, on a routine basis will create healthier air for your facility. Air cleaning also plays a key role as it can remove both the fine particles and gases. Upgrading the air filters in the HVAC system is typically not an option unless the HVAC system was designed to handle the increased air flow resistance and can still provide sufficient ventilation.
    • Use Commercial Air Purifiers: The other solution is to employ a commercial air purifier. With a system like this you can use high efficiency air filters as well as carbon and other gas removal technologies to fully address the indoor air pollutants. One of the best solutions you can use for your facility is a reliable air purifier, specifically strong, powerful units that are designed for large areas. The mod+ air purifier, for example, can clean up to 1,361 square feet at two air changes per hour, making it ideal for healthcare facilities and commercial property, as well as nursing homes. Placing this appliance in a well-ventilated common area will create better air for everyone in your facility, particularly vulnerable seniors. You can also consider adding individual air purifiers to all rooms or specific rooms for people who are more vulnerable to respiratory problems.
With these measures, you can take the most effective steps to ensure clean air for your nursing home. As research shows, this can bring better health and better comfort for all of your residents.

Get Air Purification Help from a Friendly Team

Are you ready to improve your nursing home through air purification?

Do you want more information about air purifiers for your parent’s or grandparent’s health?

Contact Oransi and we’ll help you make a confident decision for healthy air purification!