Serene Almomen headshot
Serene Almomen, PhD

As extreme weather conditions persist in parts of the country, our overall air pollution numbers have been spiking for months — and we are now transitioning into a cold and flu season that already is seeing a dramatic spike in new COVID-19 infections.

For even otherwise healthy individuals, those conditions can be a huge strain on their health, but for higher-risk subpopulations, the air they breathe can be a matter of life and death. Our senior living communities make up one of the largest of those subpopulations and must be protected against poor air quality not just outdoors, but inside as well, especially as airborne viruses become more prevalent this winter.

Poor air quality and ventilation systems present a constant risk for the more than 818,800 older adults currently residing in assisted living communities. Those spaces house a high concentration of high-risk individuals, which is why it’s especially crucial that indoor air quality, or IAQ, is monitored and controlled. Residents in assisted living communities are there to get the help they need to maintain their health and comfort, and respiratory health is an essential part of this equation.

Although the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic brought the issue of IAQ to the mainstream because of its effect on all populations, as the vaccine began to bring down the overall infection rate and the world began to normalize, the issue began to fall to the wayside. Poor breathing conditions, however, are significantly more dangerous for older adults, who often also have preexisting health conditions. For senior living and care communities, environmental factors exacerbate their age-related immunity decline and affect overall immune function.

As baby boomers continue to retire, 7 out of 10 people eventually will depend on senior living communities in their lifetime. In addition, the United States is experiencing a graying population, meaning that a greater percentage of the overall US population now is 65 years or older. As of the latest census, 1 in 6 Americans were in this demographic, a 38% increase from 2010.

Those data underscore how issues of indoor air quality affect all of us. Many of us now have loved ones in senior living communities and may even occupy one ourselves at some point. As aging populations continue to increase, the place called “home” must be maintained with healthy building practices.

For the elderly, exposure to air pollution leads to increased hospitalizations and medical and emergency visits for respiratory causes, mainly chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma and pneumonia associated with exposure to outdoor air pollutants.

Those risks only increase in older buildings and facilities with poor upkeep and outdated equipment. For older buildings that have outdated heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems and inconsistent inspections, it is especially important that building owners and operators take the initiatives to mitigate and monitor IAQ with detection tools that provide visibility of the current breathing conditions of their occupants.

A certifiably healthy building relies on adequate ventilation and recycled air filtration. Access to real-time air quality data is vital to assess the essential components of a healthy building, such as ventilation, filtration, air quality, thermal health and air quality. Using advanced Internet of Things, or IoT, technology with digitized and real-time monitoring works like a Fitbit for buildings and helps operators gauge how to improve the air quality in any space. Additionally, newer IAQ models can configure different tests based on the customer’s needs through remote facility management. With the ability to diagnose issues and identify air quality improvements in a given area, building owners can ensure that occupants are breathing in healthy, safe environments.

For instance, The Ridge Senior Living in Denver uses Attune’s IAQ sensors to monitor air quality contaminants, including PM2.5, that can result from SARS-CoV-2, respiratory syncytial virus, wildfire smoke and other air pollutants, to protect its residents. As the imminent threat of COVID-19 variants progresses, reducing the danger of bacteria, viruses, molds and other volatile organic compounds through ventilation and filtration that helps monitor what we can’t see. Additionally, the Senior Center of Elk Grove in suburban Sacramento, CA, uses Attune’s energy monitors to measure energy consumption, compare monthly usage and alert facility managers when building efficiency is at risk.

For populations that depend so heavily on healthy environmental factors for their personal health, building maintenance that includes healthy indoor air quality is essential. Businesses must invest in monitoring tools to help understand the dangers of poor particle landscapes. We’ve seen the effects of COVID-19 on our elderly communities but, pandemic or not, the elderly — and all of us — deserve to know that the air we and our loved ones are breathing is safe and healthy.

Serene Almomen, PhD, is the co-founder and CEO of the high-growth technology company Attune. Attune is a first-of-its-kind, sensor-based technology platform with 52 patents for its technology innovations. It provides real-time assurance into critical areas such as indoor air quality, energy consumption, risk of water leaks, critical equipment status, and more. Attune is the only customizable indoor air quality monitoring solution on the market and is UL 2905 and SOC2 certified and GBAC Star Registered.

The opinions expressed in each McKnight’s Senior Living marketplace column are those of the author and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Senior Living.

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