What Health Effects Does Mold Have on the Elderly?

Mold can be a serious problem for anyone, but for the elderly, who have weaker lungs and vulnerable immune systems, it can be even more dangerous.

Whether you are a senior or have an elderly loved one that needs your help, it’s important that you understand the risks, and the solutions, to household mold.


nurse helping elderly woman

The General Health Effects of Mold

Before we can talk about the specifics of mold and the elderly, we need to establish the general health problems related to mold. These health concerns apply to all people, not just the elderly.

The symptoms and severity of mold exposure will vary depending on many factors, including the concentration of exposure, the type of mold, and the overall health of the individual. However, mold exposure generally involves nasal and sinus congestion, coughing and sore throats, tightness in the chest, and difficulty breathing.

Mold releases spores, which are reproductive organisms that create new colonies. These microscopic spores can be inhaled, creating indoor air quality issues for people with asthma or anyone who has allergies to these substances.

Some indoor molds do more than just produce spores. They can also create dangerous mycotoxins or black mold. These toxins can be absorbed into the body, including the skin, intestines, and airways. When inside the body, the toxins can cause adverse health effects that range from mild irritation to respiratory problems.

Prolonged exposure to mold can create significant issues as well. These issues include hypersensitivity, pulmonary injury, and possibly cancer. Long-term exposure to mold can be extremely unhealthy, but certain groups are more vulnerable than others. This includes infants, people with respiratory conditions or allergies, and, as we’ll discuss, elderly people.

elderly couple at home

Why Are Elderly More Vulnerable to Mold?

Now that we understand the health impacts of mold, we can look at the general health of elderly individuals to understand why they are more vulnerable to respiratory issues, including mold exposure and other air pollution.

To fully understand an elder’s susceptibility to respiratory issues, it’s best to start by learning about the aging process and its effects on the lungs and overall breathing capability. The lungs essentially perform two functions, the first (and most obvious) is to pull in oxygen. The second is to expel carbon dioxide. When we breathe, air flows into the lungs through the airways, which are made of a stretchy, flexible material. Bands of muscles and tissue support the airways and help keep them open while we breathe. When air enters the lungs, it comes into contact with tiny sacs called alveoli. These sacs are the crossways for oxygen to enter the bloodstream.

First, elderly people experience changes to the lung tissue. Muscles and the other supporting tissue can become weaker, and they may lose their ability to keep the airways completely open. Aging also causes the air sacs to lose their desired shape. These changes make it difficult for older people to completely utilize air in the lungs.

Changes to the bones and muscles that support the lungs can also cause increased respiratory problems. In general, as we age our bones become thinner and change shape, resulting in a ribcage that cannot expand and contract like it should. The muscles that support breathing, especially the diaphragm, become weaker. With weakened strength, the lungs are not able to pull in as much oxygen as it once could. Also, the lungs could have more difficulty removing carbon dioxide, which creates its own set of potential health concerns.

In the elderly, you can also have changes to the nervous system, which is another way that lung function becomes weakened. The part of the brain that controls lung function can also lose its effectiveness because of a decline in the nervous system.

Once again, your body will have more trouble pulling in oxygen and releasing carbon dioxide. Nerves in the airway can also experience trouble. The nerves that trigger coughing could be less sensitive, so someone may not cough, and expel dust, spores, or other particles, when they should. If this happens, large amounts of smoke residue, germs, or mold spores could become concentrated in the airways.


Signs of an Indoor Mold Problem

If you suspect mold may be present, there are a few signs that you should watch for, but none is more important than smell. Mold has a distinct earthy, musty smell, much like the smell of rotting wood or leaves. It can give you an indication of mold in the home, and if you discover stronger smells in one part of the house, you may have an idea of where the mold is located.

The next sign of mold will be visibly spotting the mold, but this can be harder to discover than the smell. It might seem obvious, but many people actually don’t see some of the mold that has been in the house, either because it is too small or because it is hiding in a corner. They could also see it but mistake it for dirt or soot.

Water problems are not proof of mold growth, but they are a sign that mold could appear in the home. If there has been moisture in the home, it’s more likely that mold will be present. Keep an eye out for water stains, puddling, damp carpets, and leaky areas near the foundation. Peeling, bubbling, or cracking of paint or wall paper could also be an indicator that moisture is present in the home and mold could be right around the corner.

Another indicator of mold is leaky pipes. If you have leaky pipes anywhere in the home, your chances of mold growth are significantly higher. Make sure all pipes are properly sealed, and if the plumbing is outdated, you may need to seek professional help to replace the pipes, drains, or seals.


Simple Tips for Removing Mold is an Elder’s House

Removing mold is a simple process, but in some cases you may need to hire a professional, particularly if widespread and found in multiple rooms. You’ll also need to consider how much time you can dedicate to mold-cleaning. If you can’t spend as much time, then perhaps you should hire a professional so you know it will be done quickly and effectively.

If you decide to remove mold yourself, be prepared for some physical work. With the right cleaning materials and a lot of effort, you can remove mold, and one of the best ways to kill mold is by using a bleach solution. Bleach kills the mold and its spores, making it an effective way to remove the fungus. Simply spray a mixture of bleach and water (roughly 1 parts bleach, 10 parts water) onto the mold and use a rag to rub it into the surface. This will kill the mold and remove it from your home. You can also use vinegar, borax, hydrogen peroxide, and many other chemicals to remove mold from the home.

The best technique, however, is prevention. By maintaining a clean, dry home with good ventilation, you will reduce the chances of mold ever becoming a problem.

A high-quality HEPA air purifier for mold is a good choice for the elderly as it will also remove the tiny airborne dust and other particulates that present so many health problems.

A good way to prevent the spread of mold growth is by maintaining the humidity in your home to between 30%-50%. Due to high levels of humidity a basement is a common place for mold. If the relative humidity is above 50%, consider running an air conditioner or dehumidifier.


Helping You Maintain a Mold-Free Home

By using Oransi air purifiers that use UV light, you can reduce the chances of mold from becoming a problem in your home. Contact our staff to learn more about our full line of excellent air purifiers.