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How to Protect Seniors from Air Pollution Health Effects

The air quality in the Northeast has been hazardous for several days due to smoke from Canadian wildfires. The Environmental Protection Agency has issued a health advisory for the region. Here’s what you need to know to keep elderly family members safe from negative air pollution health effects.

Why Seniors Are at Increased Risk

Poor air quality poses risks to everyone, but seniors are particularly vulnerable. As people age, their lungs become less efficient at filtering out pollutants, and their immune system weakens. This can lead to acute respiratory problems, such as shortness of breath, bronchial spasms and respiratory tract infections like pneumonia.

Seniors are also more likely to have preexisting chronic health conditions that can be exacerbated by air particles. In addition, some medications may make them more susceptible to the effects of air pollution.  Beta-blockers, which are often used to treat heart disease, for example, can make it more difficult for the lungs to clear mucus.

As a result, emergency room visits and hospital admissions typically increase as air quality decreases. Research shows that the correlation between air pollution and heart failure, myocardial infarction and ischemic stroke grows stronger with age.

How to Protect Your Loved One

There are a few things you can do to protect senior family members during an air quality crisis:

  • Encourage them to stay indoors as much as possible. If they must go outside, they should wear an N95 mask that covers their nose and mouth.
  • Check the Air Quality Index (AQI). The AQI is a measure of how polluted the air is. If the AQI is high, it is particularly important to stay indoors.
  • Advise them to avoid strenuous activity when the air quality is bad. Strenuous activity can increase susceptibility to the effects of pollution.
  • Maintain air quality indoors. Keep doors and windows shut and use a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) purifier. Avoid smoking, burning candles or cooking fried foods.
  • If your loved one has a preexisting heart or respiratory condition, get in touch with their doctor to see whether their medication should be adjusted.
  • Monitor for signs of respiratory distress. If they experience any of the following symptoms, seek medical attention immediately:
    • Coughing
    • Wheezing
    • Shortness of breath
    • Chest pain
    • Difficulty breathing

What to Expect If Your Loved One Is Hospitalized

If your loved one does get admitted to the hospital due to the air quality crisis, there are a few things you can expect:

  • They will be monitored closely by the medical team.
  • They may be given medication to help with their breathing.
  • They may be put on oxygen therapy.
  • They may be asked to stay in the hospital for a longer period of time.

After discharge from the hospital, they may need to go to a post-acute rehab center to continue their recovery. Post-acute rehab centers provide specialized care and services – such as cardiac care and pulmonary rehabilitation – that can help seniors regain their strength and function. As you evaluate your options, reach out to the facility to understand what protective measures are in place.

By following these tips, you can help to protect elderly loved ones from air pollution health effects and ensure that they receive the best possible care if they are hospitalized.