07 Apr Indoor Air Pollution: A Hidden Threat to Seniors
When you think of common health hazards in a senior’s home, dirty air probably isn’t at the top of your list. After all, it’s typically slip-and-fall accidents that are responsible for the greatest number of emergency room visits involving seniors. The National Council on Aging (NCOA), in fact, reports that a senior is treated for a slip-and-fall accident in a hospital emergency room once every 11 seconds in the United States. While slip-and-fall accidents are certainly concerning, a threat to senior’s health that’s often overlooked is indoor air pollution.
What Is Indoor Air Pollution?
Indoor air pollution, as the name suggests, refers to airborne toxins or other potentially harmful substances inside homes and buildings. Many people assume that air pollution is exclusive to the outdoors. In densely populated cities, for instance, vehicles release emissions that manifests in the form of air pollution. Therefore, local governments often issue a “smog alert” when the outdoor air pollution is high.
With that said, indoor air pollution can prove even more concerning than outdoor air pollution. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), indoor air pollution is responsible for nearly 4 million deaths each year. As this number continues to grow, health officials across the world are sounding the alarm to the dangers of indoor air pollution.
Indoor air pollution is often caused by the following:
- Carbon monoxide
- Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
- Particulate matter
- Household cleaning products
The Health Effects of Indoor Air Pollution
When exposed to indoor air pollution, a person may experience any number of mild to severe symptoms. On the mild side, symptoms typically resemble those of seasonal allergies. A person may experience watery eyes, fatigue, nasal congestion, headache and coughing. On the severe side, symptoms of indoor air pollution may cause eye redness, fever, lethargy, nausea, hearing loss and muscle aches.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also reports that long-term exposure to indoor air pollution can contribute to chronic diseases. If a person is exposed to indoor air pollution for a prolonged period, such as several years, he or she may have a greater risk of developing heart disease, respiratory disease and even cancer. As a result, indoor air pollution can prove life-threatening, especially to people with preexisting health conditions.
How Indoor Air Pollution Affects Seniors
While indoor air pollution affects men and women of all ages, it’s particularly harmful to seniors. Research shows that seniors spend about 95% of their time indoors. When cooped up indoors, they are naturally exposed to high levels of airborne pollutants.
The air inside a senior’s home may look clean, but that doesn’t mean it’s free of pollutants. All homes, as well as buildings, contain some level of indoor air pollution. Since seniors spend up to 95% of their time indoors, they are naturally exposed to indoor air pollution — more so than younger adults.
Many seniors also have preexisting health conditions that places them at a greater risk for complications associated with indoor air pollution. According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), over half of all seniors have at least one preexisting health condition. Maybe a senior suffers from asthma, or perhaps he or she has diabetes. Regardless, preexisting health conditions such as these place seniors at a greater risk for complications associated with indoor air pollution.
Tips to Protect Seniors From Indoor Air Pollution
What steps can you take to protect seniors from the dangers of indoor air pollution? If you have a friend or family member who’s 65 years of age or older, you should encourage him or her to spend more time outdoors. The EPA states that an average home’s air is up to 25 times more polluted than outdoor air.
Even if a senior wants to stay inside, you can encourage him or her to open a window to minimize the senior’s risk of indoor air pollution. Opening a window will flush out the polluted indoor air while subsequently replacing it with fresh outdoor air.
You can also protect the senior from indoor air pollution by ensuring his or her HVAC filter is changed. Most homes and buildings have an HVAC filter. When the heat or air conditioning is turned on, air will pass through the HVAC filter before being expelled out the vents. The purpose of the HVAC filter, of course, is to remove debris from the air. For it to work as intended, though, it needs to be relatively clean.
If the senior has neglected to change his or her HVAC filter, you should consider changing it on their behalf. A good rule of thumb is to replace the HVAC filter once every 30 to 60 days. After 60 days, most HVAC filters will become clogged with debris to the point where they fail to properly filter the air.
Indoor air pollution is a serious health hazard for seniors. With seniors spending up to 95% of their time indoors, as well as suffering from preexisting health conditions, they are considered high-risk individuals for complications associated with indoor air pollution.