How better indoor air quality leads to a better quality of life

February 15, 2021 Providence Optimal Aging Team

Key takeaways: 

  • There are a lot of sources that cause poor indoor air quality, including new or old furniture, cleaning products and humidity. 

  • HEPA filters, air purifiers, ventilation and removing the cause of mold and mildew help fight poor indoor air quality. 

  • For older adults, indoor air quality is critical to respiratory health since they may be more prone to weaker immune systems or lung disease.  


Quarantining during the pandemic, along with colder weather in many parts of the country, means that people are spending more time indoors. And that means “bad air days” may be affecting a lot of people — especially older adults. 

Indoor air quality is something everyone should be concerned about when it comes to their health. But because of the factors that contribute to senior health, what may only be mildly uncomfortable for a younger person may develop into a chronic, harmful condition in an older person. 

Indoor air quality is described as the air quality within and around buildings and structures. It’s especially tied to the health and comfort of the people who live in the buildingsIt’s vital for seniors to know about common indoor pollutants. Then you can help control them and lower your risk of health problems. 

Why seniors may struggle more with poor indoor air quality 

One of the basic reasons older adults may have problems dealing with poor indoor air quality is this simple fact: they’ve been alive longer.  

Seniors’ exposure to poor air quality over the years makes them more likely to have breathing problems.  

Seniors have been breathing in pollution more than someone who’s years younger and those older adult lungs bear the brunt of itWhile this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, it’s generally understood that seniors’ exposure to poor air quality over the years makes them more likely to have breathing problems.  

There are other factors that play a part in seniors’ respiratory health: 

  • Weaker immune systems. In less active seniors, aging can cause a loss of physical vitality and a drop in hormone levels. When that happens, it takes longer to heal, and a weaker immune system doesn’t rid the body of harmful pollutants like it used to.  

  • Diseases that affect the lungs and heart. Because of aging and a weaker immune system, other diseases may develop that affect the lungs and heart. When indoor air pollution is poor, these health problems may become worse — leading to a trip to the emergency room.  

Causes of poor indoor air quality 

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)it’s likely indoor air might be up to five times more polluted than outdoor air. One of the main causes of this grim statistic is that indoor sources release gas and particle pollutants into the airOther causes include faulty ventilation that doesn’t bring in enough outdoor air to reduce the harmful gases or particles or carry them out of the building. The concentrations of some pollutants can also be raised because of high humidity levels and temperatures. 

There are a number of sources that can cause indoor air pollution. These may include: 

  • Tobacco products  

  • Household cleaning products and air fresheners, along with products for maintenance, personal care or hobbies 

  • Dust 

  • Building materials and furnishings that include: 

  • New flooring, upholstery or carpet 

  • Insulation that contains old asbestos 

  • Furniture or cabinets made of pressed wood products 

  • Fuel-burning combustion appliances 

  • Central heating and cooling systems and humidification devices 

  • Too much moisture leading to mold 

  • Sources from outdoors such as: 

  • Pesticides 

  • Radon 

  • Air pollution 

  • Wildfire smoke 

Some of the sources on this list, such as furnishings and air fresheners, may release pollutants on an ongoing basis. The sources involving activities such as cleaning or smoking more often release pollutants periodically 

Four simple, effective ways to improve indoor air quality 

This may surprise you, but the suggestion to add green plants to your home doesn’t have much impact on your home’s air quality. Still, there are other strategies that are fairly easy to put in place and help clean up your living space for better air days ahead.  

  • Filter. Buy the most efficient air filters you can for your homes heating and air conditioning system. Then be sure to change them every six to 12 months. You’ll want to use HEPA (high-efficiency particle air) filters that will ideally remove at least 99.97% of dust, pollen, mold, bacteria and any airborne particles with a size of 0.3 microns, which is the worst-case particle size.  

Purifiers can filter out pollutants in a room by pulling air through a HEPA filterAlthough some air purifiers can be expensive, you probably won’t need a commercial-strength model for your home.

  • Purify. Make portable air purifiers part of your strategy to guard against germs, bacteria and COVID-19. Purifiers can filter out pollutants in a room by pulling air through a HEPA filterAlthough some air purifiers can be expensive, you probably won’t need a commercial-strength model for your home. Find one that makes sense for you—it could make all the difference. 

  • Fight viruses with ventilationPerhaps more than ever before, ventilating our living spaces has been hailed as a way to reduce the airborne contaminant that causes COVID-19 (along with other viruses). While proper ventilation can’t do the job alone (masks, social distancing and handwashing are still vital), it can be part of your health protection plan. The simplest way to ventilate is to open windows and screen doors or use a window air conditioner that has an outdoor vent or air intake. Getting as much fresh air as you can is an effective way to ventilate the places that matter most to you and your loved ones.  

  • Do away with mold and mildew. When you lower the relative humidity or moisture in your home, you’ll help keep mold, bacteria and viruses from running rampant. Some of the ways to do that are to vacuum often, use ventilation fans and keep that fresh air circulating through the house, as weather and safety permit. 

Breathe easier knowing you can improve indoor air quality 

People of all ages can be affected by poor indoor air quality. But older adults often feel the effects most strongly, especially if you have lung disease, asthma or a compromised immune system. The good news is that a few simple steps can help make sure you have more good air days than bad. 


Have you found ways to improve your home’s indoor air quality? Share your tips and results with readers @providence. 


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Related resources 

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions. 

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