January 3, 2023
As a long-distance caregiver supporting the independent lifestyle of your older family members, one of the most important things you need to keep in check is their living environment.
The health of a building is tightly connected to the health of its occupants, and humidity is an essential parameter in this regard.
Improper humidity levels risk decreasing the mechanical strength of building materials and pose a risk to human health and comfort. Chronic diseases, fungal infections, asthma, allergies, or dry itchy skin are some of the pesky issues that, hopefully, your folks will never have to deal with!
Here is what you will find in this article:
Rest assured that, by the end of this post, you will know everything you need to prevent or counter any negative effects of humidity on health.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the ideal indoor humidity levels should be kept between 30 and 50 percent. This is also referred to as the ideal indoor relative humidity (RH).
We have this recommendation, in particular, for two reasons.
First, mucous membranes are most resistant to infection around moderate humidity levels. Second, viruses living in aerosol particles need extreme humidity levels to survive.
You can measure this parameter with a hygrometer that you can buy online or from a hardware store. If you want more bang for your buck, consider investing in a humidifier that has a built-in hygrometer — that way, you can easily maintain the ideal indoor humidity level.
Additionally, when it comes to eldercare, in particular, there are certain devices that measure air quality. CareAlert — our home monitoring system for seniors — detects humidity, air quality changes, or unsafe room temperatures.
If something doesn’t seem right, CareAlert’s senior care app will send you a notification right away and allow you to check in with your loved one through a two-way communicator.
There is enough scientific evidence to confirm the connection between indoor humidity and health. It’s important to pay extra attention to the air quality of senior homes, especially for those who generally have a lower immune system.
Maintaining the sweet spot in relative humidity not only ensures that we breathe healthy air. It can significantly lower virus transmission and allow our bodies to maintain strong immune responses to them.
Let’s go deeper into the issue and discuss the risks associated with consistently low or high humidity to further see how crucial it is to control indoor moisture.
Older people are more likely to develop irritated, dry skin during the winter when the air is less humid. It may not seem quite severe, but itchy skin (or pruritus) can be terribly annoying and make your elderly parent irritable as well as hinder their sleep.
Those who take anticoagulant medications for cardiovascular disease are exposed to another health risk due to dry skin. Their skin and capillaries (small blood vessels) are so fragile that even light scratches can cause large bruises.
Dry air can also irritate nasal passages and your throat, as well as cause itchy eyes.
What’s more, a 2019 study showed that low humidity makes people more susceptible to influenza disease.
In order to obtain an optimum humidity level, as we mentioned above, a humidifier may be the perfect solution. According to Mayo Clinic, this device can help alleviate dry sinuses or skin and respiratory conditions.
You may find several types of humidifiers to choose from:
It’s important that you maintain the humidifier unit in top shape, according to the instructions provided by the manufacturer, so it doesn’t breed fungi or harmful bacteria.
The effects of high humidity on health are just as severe:
More so, if you or your loved ones are dealing with symptoms like red or itchy eyes and skin, stuffy nose, and wheezing, a mold infection might be the culprit. Unfortunately, according to the CDC, there are no clinically proven tests that can detect mold exposure in people. But you can do allergy tests and check the indoor air quality.
But what determines excess moisture? Here are a few contributing factors:
Did You Know? A thermal bridge occurs when poorly insulating materials allow heat to flow across a thermal barrier (you can also find a more elaborate definition in ISO Standard 10211). Thermal bridging can be observed in various parts of a building envelope, for example around window or door openings, external wall corners, or wall and roof junctions.
Heat loss is inevitable, but if we don’t minimize it through proper design, insulation, and maintenance, we risk condensation that can result in mold growth. Certain older buildings may lack adequate ventilation or may have been built without any thermal insulation.
Besides being careful not to generate excess moisture through daily activities, a dehumidifier can also come in handy, especially if you live in a humid climate, or you need to quickly remove water from a leak or flood.
In addition to the solutions already presented to combat the effects of high humidity on health, as well as the effects of reduced moisture, it's a good idea to make sure the house is properly ventilated and heated.
Furthermore, try not to keep bookshelves or carpets close to the exterior walls of the house — they can increase the relative humidity (RH) and cause mold growth.
Also, keep in mind that getting to the root of this problem may require a more drastic or costly approach than purchasing a (de)humidifier. For instance, if your elderly parents live in an old house, you might want to check if certain improvements are necessary (and that you can afford them) such as:
A restoration contractor would be the expert to call to help you identify structural damage and solutions.
The link between humidity and health issues in the elderly is stark, supported by science, and mustn’t be overlooked if you’re a caregiver to an elderly relative.
Every caregiver should know about the effects of humidity on health and comfort. This article covered some of the building design elements that contribute to proper RH levels as well as how to maintain an ideal indoor humidity day by day. We hope it will help you find the right solutions to fix or improve your elderly loved ones’ living conditions and well-being.
If you are looking for general resources to make ageing in place safer and more comfortable for your parents or grandparents, NIA has plenty of tips you can put into practice right away.
Additionally, if you opt for our home monitoring system for seniors, it will use its sensors and machine learning technology to constantly evaluate the living environment. Should it detect any anomalies in temperature, humidity, or air quality, it will alert you via a report on the accompanying CareAlert senior care app.
If you need any support in picking the right monitoring solution for your parents’ home or want to learn more about what we do, get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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