Is PM2.5 dangerous for elderly people?

Air pollution is the leading contributor to early mortality among the elderly

Elderly people are particularly susceptible to many health problems due to the aging of their body and weakening immune systems. Air pollution also has a significant impact on the elderly and has recently been recognised as a leading contributor to early mortality among the elderly.


PM2.5 exacerbates health problems among the elderly

Even at low levels, studies have found that PM2.5 greatly affects the health of elderly people. Chronic exposure to high levels of PM2.5 leads to faster cognitive decline in old age, along with an increased risk of dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, and strokes. It is believed elderly people are at more risk because PM2.5 exacerbates health problems common among the elderly, such as dysfunctional inflammatory and nervous systems and problems with preventing and stopping bleeding.

Air pollution also worsens the health of elderly people who are already suffering from issues like pneumonia, sepsis, or a traumatic injury from a fall. Air pollution can make it more difficult for their bodies to recover from such problems and can even lead to their deaths.


Increase in PM2.5 correlates with higher mortality rate

A 2017 US study looked at the deaths of 22 million Americans aged over 65 between the years 2000 and 2012. It found that the mortality rate increases almost in line with increases in air pollution, particularly PM2.5 and ground-level ozone. An increase of PM2.5 by just 10 microgram/m3 was associated with increases in mortality among the elderly of 13.6%. In other words, many elderly people will live longer if the air they breathe is cleaner.

Unfortunately, there has not yet been a lot of research conducted into the impact of air pollution on elderly people, so the effects may actually be worse than identified so far.

If possible, elderly people should stay inside on high pollution days. Houses should be well-sealed (no gaps around windows and doors, for example) and air filtration products can be used to help improve air quality.

PM2.5 isn’t just dangerous for the elderly. It is also dangerous for pregnant women and children, plus it has a negative impact on our skin and can affect us more if we exercise outside.


References

Wang Chenchen, Yifan Tu, Zongliang Yu, and Rongzhu Lu. 2015. ‘PM2.5 and cardiovascular diseases in the elderly: An overview’, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 12(7):8187-8197. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4515716/

Qian Di, Yan Wang, Antonella Zanobetti, Yun Wang, Petros Koutrakis, Christine Choirat, Francesca Dominici, and Joel D. Schwartz. 2017. ‘Air pollution and mortality in the Medicate population’, New England Journal of Medicine 376:2513-2522. https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1702747