Common Indoor Air Quality Issues Facing Long-Term Care Facilities

Why IAQ In Assisted Living Facilities Matter And How You Can Address Reducing Airborne Pollutants.

For long-term care and assisted living facilities, indoor air pollutants can exacerbate the health problems residents are already experiencing. Unfortunately, indoor air quality has always been a problem in these medical facilities, with high concentrations of airborne pathogens, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), mold, allergens, and particulate matter. These airborne contaminants, combined with the weakened immune systems of residents, can translate to higher rates of viral transmission and long-term health risks. To learn how you can better support indoor air quality (IAQ) improvements in your long-term care facilities, read this article and discover the steps that can be taken to reduce these hazardous air pollutants.

Why Do Nursing Homes Need Clean Indoor Air?

Nursing homes and other long-term care facilities house some of society’s most vulnerable. And when these populations are exposed to unregulated indoor air, there are more significant health risks. In general, poor air quality can cause significant health problems, and the COVID pandemic has brought awareness to this unique connection.

Acute and long-term exposure to air pollutants can impact even healthy adults, causing headaches, dizziness, fatigue, and worsened asthma symptoms, lung disease, heart disease, and lung cancer.  While assisted living facilities might operate like medical facilities, their indoor air quality (IAQ) is not regulated in the same way.

This is unfortunate because the older adults in nursing homes can be impacted more profoundly by poor air conditions, leading to more acute care visits, hospitalizations, lower quality of life, respiratory infections, and medical expenditures. One study has explored the unmet need for adequate IAQ in nursing homes, arguing that an action plan can help address the vulnerabilities in these facilities and improve quality of life.

Assisted Living Residents Having Breakfast

What Are Sources of Indoor Air Pollution Within Long-Term Care Facilities?

Each environment can have a host of air pollution levels in space. HVAC system filters remove many of these particulates; however, the efficacy of eliminating these particulates depends on the HVAC filter, efficiency, and the number of air changes per hour. The outdoor air pollution nearby, the machinery types indoors, and occupants also increase indoor pollutants.

Common indoor air pollutants include:

  • Biological pollutants (i.e., mold, viruses, bacteria)
  • Chemical pollutants (i.e., radon, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, lead)
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs; i.e., benzene, ethylene glycol, formaldehyde, methylene chloride, tetrachloroethylene, toluene)
  • Harmful levels of greenhouse gas (i.e., ground-level ozone pollution, sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, and outdoor methane)
  • Smoke (like secondhand smoke from cigars) and wildfire smoke

Many people recognize that nursing homes have a smell, suggesting they probably aren’t well vented. Common indoor air pollutants in nursing homes include PM10, PM0.1, formaldehyde, NO2, and O3.

Skilled Nurse Serving Tea To Elderly Man

Particulate Matter (PM10, PM0.1)

Particulate matter (PM) includes a variety of airborne pollutants. PM10 are inhalable particles with a diameter of 10 micrometers or smaller, and PM0.1 are those that are 0.1 micrometers in size. PM includes solids and liquids like soot, aerosols, fumes, mists, dust, and condensing vapors. These pollutants can linger in the air for a while and contribute to poor indoor health, mainly because most people can’t see these particles. A significant amount of PM is linked to industrial processes, agricultural operations, wood-burning, construction, and machinery.

Formaldehyde (VOCs)

Formaldehyde is a volatile organic compound (VOC), a colorless chemical gas emitted by several indoor sources, including heaters, building materials, furniture, cleaning products, disinfectants, and cooling systems. Formaldehyde is one of the most common VOCs that can pollute indoor air.

Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2)

Nitrogen dioxide is a highly reactive gas known as nitrogen or nitrogen oxide (NOx) oxides. NO2 might sneak into a long-term care facility through inefficient HVAC filtration that allows polluted outside air to make its way inside.

Ozone (O3)

Ozone is a harmful form of oxygen that is usually emitted by machines. This inorganic molecule has a distinctly pungent smell. Some UV air cleaners and electrostatic sprayers emit ozone, but in long-term care facilities, it likely is put off by medical machinery.

4 of the Best Ways to Improve Indoor Air Quality in Assisted Living Facilities

Source control, improved ventilation, and filtration, and air cleaners can go a long way in promoting healthy indoor air environments for nursing home residents. 

#1 Increase Fresh Air

There are numerous benefits of fresh air for elderly patients, including vitamin D from the sun, more exercise/movement, a mood boost, increased physical healing, more energy, better sleep, and less stress. But as we grow older and slow down, it becomes harder to get fresh air and stay active. Increasing fresh air in nursing homes can be as simple as opening a window or taking your patients out for a walk or stroll.  

#2 Get an Air Purifier

Luckily, portable air purifiers can reduce the rates of common air pollutants, the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and improve indoor air quality in assisted living facilities. Air purifiers are a powerful technology that can efficiently and quickly remove toxins from the air. These portable and affordable devices can be plugged into any outlet in patients’ rooms, social spaces, or hallways. Multi-stage filtration air purifiers can remove multiple types of pollutants, including PMs, VOCs, bacteria, viruses, mold spores, and the COVID-19 virus. And air purifiers come in all sizes, too, so you can get smaller air purifiers for individual rooms and larger air purifiers in joined spaces. 

#3 Upgrade HVAC Filter and HVAC Induct

Your HVAC system might be working, but how often is the filter cleaned or replaced? A poor or inefficient HVAC filter may be causing PM to sneak into the facility or not effectively remove dander, pollen, and hair. Upgrading your HVAC filter to HEPA can significantly increase the number of pollutants filtered out. And staying on top of HVAC maintenance can improve this system. 


You can also consider upgrading to an HVAC cleaning induct. This induct uses air cleaning technologies like ActivePure to clean the air and cycle through into each room continually. This is one of the best technologies that can be implemented in long-term care facilities because it allows more fresh air to be introduced into rooms more often, all while keeping particulates out. 

#4 Get Plants

In addition to air purifiers, plants are a great source of natural air cleaning. Plants naturally take in carbon dioxide and give off healthy oxygen, allowing your elderly patients a chance to breathe in fresh air without the risk of outdoor pollution. They can also remove formaldehyde, benzene, and many other toxins from the air. One NASA study found that plants removed many VOCs, including benzene, trichloroethylene, formaldehyde, and toluene. Top-performing flowering plants included chrysanthemums and gerbera daisies. Golden pothos, spider plants, and philodendrons were most effective at removing formaldehyde.

Senior Man Planting Greenery In Long-Term Care Facility

Why It’s Best to Address Assisted Living Facilities Indoor Air Quality to Minimize Health Risks

Our long-term care patients' health matters. And as a vulnerable population, they may be more at risk to poor indoor air and harmful airborne pollutants. Addressing indoor air quality in living facilities can reduce the negative health impact, premature death and reduce medical expenses in the living facility. This will improve the business’s reputation and the health of those individuals who are under your care. Provide a better quality of life and longer life with air purifier technologies. To help choose the best indoor air quality solution for your long-term care facility, reach out to Sanalife today!

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