How older people can protect themselves against mould in the home

How older people can protect themselves against mould in the home

BY Dr Vijay Nayar

21st Mar 2024 Wellbeing

3 min read

A doctor is calling for more to be done to inform the public of the potential health implications of mould in the home, particularly among older members of society

The unseen threat of mould

Hiding within the confines of homes, mould poses a significant health hazard, particularly for vulnerable demographics like older people. With over 1.1 million households in England grappling with cold and damp issues, mould's presence contributes to an estimated £1.4 billion spent by the NHS on treating associated illnesses. 
To address this issue, elderly mobility experts, Senior Stairlifts, sought the expertise of experienced GP and healthcare professional, Dr Vijay Nayar, to better understand and highlight the urgency and importance of addressing the prevention of mould in the home. 
"Mould's presence leads to around £1.4 billion spent by the NHS on treating associated illnesses"
Dr Nayar stresses the heightened vulnerability of the elderly due to weakened immune systems, respiratory ailments, and the psychological toll of inhabiting damp environments.
Dr Nayar elaborates, "Mould can have a serious effect on your health as it releases microscopic spores which are irritant and can react with your immune system to produce an allergic reaction. Some people are more sensitive to mould, and this includes children, older people, those with underlying allergies, and people who are immunosuppressed".

The impact of mould on our health 

Older man coughing and being comforted by his wife
Dr Nayar explains that mould in the home may trigger allergic reactions, such as a runny nose, sneezing, skin rashes and red eyes. For those with asthma or COPD, mould exposure can instigate potentially life-threatening respiratory complications. 
Older individuals, who often spend longer periods of time indoors, face a higher risk. Their potentially weakened immune systems make them more susceptible to mould's effects, especially those that are respiratory and cardiovascular related. 
Further to this, the psychological toll of inhabiting damp environments may worsen existing mental health conditions or even provoke new ones, leading to a decline of overall health. 

The increased susceptibility of older people

Kieran Harris, founder of Senior Stairlifts, recalls a concerning pattern in his experience working closely with the elderly. He said, “I’ve noticed that older people tend to only have their heating on in one room, typically the living room or bedroom. While this might seem practical for saving energy and keeping heating costs down, by concentrating the heat in one area, moisture levels can rise significantly, leading to dampness and condensation on walls and ceilings.
"Heating in just one room can result in dampness and condensation on that room's walls and ceilings"
“These conditions are ideal for mould spores to thrive and multiply, so despite the intention to stay warm and comfortable, the unintended consequence of heating only one room can result in a hazardous living environment for older people".

Preventing mould in the home

Home with window open to ventilate it
Advocating for heightened awareness and urgency of proactive measures, Dr Nayar expressed, "Preventing mould is preferable to dealing with its consequences on health, however, this is often easier said than done. Mould often causes musty and unpleasant odours when unchecked and regular cleaning of surfaces and vacuuming carpets can reduce the number of spores that settle.
“Condensation in the winter is a particular problem with closed windows and cold outside walls. Increasing ventilation by opening windows even for a short period of time will help. This is especially important when cooking or having a shower. Installing air vents and dehumidifiers is beneficial if they can be afforded.
"Homeowners overseeing older relatives should prioritise regular inspections for mould"
“Trying not to dry clothes indoors is advisable but often unavoidable without access to a tumble dryer. The message again is to keep some ventilation going and minimising cluttering can help with this. Damp should not be ignored and leaking pipes and appliances should be dealt with promptly".
Homeowners, particularly those overseeing older relatives, should prioritise regular inspections for mould. Musty odours or visible growth means there needs to be action taken. Keeping indoor humidity levels between 30-50 per cent, promptly rectifying leaks, and enhancing ventilation in damp areas are all good preventative measures to take. Using mould-resistant materials during renovations and cleaning regularly are all essential steps. 

Working together for action

Healthcare providers can educate patients about the dangers of mould and how to spot signs of a growing problem. Kieran adds, “By raising awareness, taking preventive measures, and supporting those at risk, we can create safer homes for older adults and reduce the impact of mould-related illnesses, and therefore the strain on the NHS. 
“More could be done by the government to fund research on mould-related health issues and create robust regulations to ensure safe housing standards, especially for older adults”.
If mould growth covers an area of more than ten square feet, professional extraction is advised and individuals who begin experiencing respiratory symptoms or unexplained health issues should seek medical evaluation.
Banner photo: Avinash Kumar
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