As temperatures rise during the summer months, air quality decreases. This makes breathing difficult for those who have respiratory ailments or heart problems, and can also make healthy people more susceptible to respiratory infections. Air pollution and smog aggravate heart disease, lung disease, asthma and diabetes, among other ailments.
While younger people can adapt to these changes, seniors are more susceptible to this environmental hazard. Their bodies are less able to compensate for the fine particle pollutants. They’ve breathed in more pollutants than younger people over their lifetime, and perhaps have been smoking for a good part of their lives, or grown up in a household with smokers. In addition, their lungs are less elastic and less able to filter out polluted air than when they were younger. As a result, they have weaker immune systems and have more difficulty fighting infections. They may end up requiring more medications, have more visits to their physician, and more visits to the emergency room, adding to their already high medical bills. In extreme cases, they may even die.
So how can seniors be kept safe when air quality decreases?
First of all, they should be made aware of any health concerns they have that can be made worse by air pollution. Their caretakers should be informed of these ailments also, and be taught to watch for signs of complications. When pollution is high and advisories are issued, seniors should refrain from strenuous outside activities. They should also stay indoors.
Air quality inside the home should also be monitored. The air inside the home can quickly become just as bad as outside when the house is kept locked tight with the air conditioning running. Invest in good-quality air filters, one with a HEPA filter to clean pollen and dust from the air, and one with a carbon-activated filter to remove foul odors and gaseous chemicals. A HEPA filter must be cleaned often to prevent it from becoming clogged.
If the air quality is especially poor outside, it may take a few days for the body to recover. And if someone is regularly exposed to high levels of unhealthy air, the health consequences can linger for months or even years.
If a senior has plans to be outside, be sure to track air quality in their area by checking newspapers, listening to the radio or visiting online sites. If someone you know has asthma or other lung conditions, be sure they take extra cautions when air quality is poor.
Source: National Institutes of Health