Elderly Europeans living in nursing homes with poor air quality are at a greater risk for poor lung health. Five indoor air pollutants that occur from a variety of sources including cleaning products and furniture can lead elderly individuals to develop symptoms of breathlessness and coughing and possibly even chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD). Nursing homes are thus advised to take steps to ensure high quality of the air their residents breathe in order to help prevent the development of lung disease.
“The majority of lung diseases are preventable therefore we must focus on strategies that target the risk factors linked to these diseases,” said Dan Smyth, Chair of the European Lung Foundation, in a news release from the foundation.
Smyth’s comments follow the publication of a new article in European Respiratory Journal entitled “Indoor Air Quality, Ventilation and Respiratory Health in Elderly Residents Living in Nursing Homes in Europe.” The study was conducted at 50 nursing homes in seven countries, with a total of 600 elderly individuals evaluated for lung health. The study was a part of the European Union-funded GERIE research project, which aims to improve the health of elderly individuals living in nursing homes.
“Our findings have shown an independent effect of several indoor air pollutants on the lung health of the elderly living in nursing homes,” said Dr. Isabella Annesi-Maesano, who is from Medical School St. Antoine in Paris and was the principal investigator for the study. “This is a worrying problem since the body’s ability to cope with harmful air pollutants decreases as we age. Nursing homes should do more to prevent indoor air pollution by limiting its sources and by improving ventilation in their buildings. The respiratory health of residents should also be checked on a regular basis.”
To assess lung health in the study, researchers conducted lung function tests and administered health questionnaires. Test readouts were interpreted in light of the levels of five indoor air pollutants measured within the nursing homes. The pollutants were particles with a 50% cut-off aerodynamic diameter less than 10 micrometers (PM10) or 0.1 micrometers (PM0.1), formaldehyde, nitrogen oxide (NO2), and ozone (O3). It was noted that the average levels of these pollutants were not in excess of existing standards.
Regardless, the researchers found that only 18% of residents had an adequate ventilation system installed within their nursing home. This may have contributed to a high association between exposure to carbon dioxide (CO2) and breathlessness, coughing, and COPD. Higher levels of PM10 and NO2 also contributed to breathlessness and coughing, high levels of PM0.1 were associated with wheezing, and high levels of formaldehyde were associated with COPD.
“These findings add to a body of evidence confirming that indoor air pollution is one of these risk factors,” said Smyth. “We must raise awareness of this, through campaigns such as Healthy Lungs for Life, to ensure that the public, patients, healthcare professionals and policymakers understand the importance of breathing clean air to help prevent disease.”