Elderly people living in a nursing home stay indoors most of the time, which can increase their risk of shortness of breath, coughing and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Scientists from the EU-funded GERIE research project blame the poor air quality in these homes and say that it can damage the lungs of its residents fatally.
They collected data on five indoor air pollutants: PM10 (large particles) and PM0.1 (ultra-fine particles), formaldehyde, nitrogen dioxide and ozone. The study revealed that exposure to high levels of PM10 and nitrogen dioxide was "significantly associated" with breathlessness and cough. High levels of PM0.1 were associated with wheeze during the last year of life and high concentrations of formaldehyde were linked with COPD.
These pollutants come from a range of sources including heaters, building materials, furniture, cleaning products, disinfectants and cooling systems.
Lead study author Isabella Annesi-Maesano said that, "Our findings have shown an independent effect of several indoor air pollutants on the lung health of the elderly living in nursing homes. This is a worrying problem since the body's ability to cope with harmful air pollutants decreases as we age."
Study co-author Dan Smyth, chairman of the European Lung Foundation, agreed and added, "The majority of lung diseases are preventable, therefore we must focus on strategies that target the risk factors linked to these diseases."
The researchers objectively assessed levels of the pollutants in 50 different nursing homes in seven countries — Belgium, Denmark, France, Greece, Italy, Poland and Sweden and a total of 600 residents aged over 65 years were used in the study. Each participant underwent a number of clinical tests including lung function testing and a health questionnaire.
The study was published online in the European Respiratory Journal