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The air in a nursing home can affect the functioning of the lungs of elderly people

The quality of indoor air at European nursing homes affects the health of the elderly residents’ lungs. For the first time this is shown by research. Aarhus University has undertaken the Danish section of the survey which covers seven countries in the EU.

Elderly people living in a nursing home live in an indoor environment which can increase their risk of shortness of breath, coughing and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

This is shown by the GERIE research project which, with the support of EU funds, for the first time couples indoor climate in 50 European nursing homes in seven countries with its significance for the health of elderly residents. The study has just been published in the prestigious scientific journal European Respiratory Journal.

The project shows that Danish nursing home residents turn the heating up to such an extent that the temperature is the highest of all the seven countries at around 25 0C.

In addition, the air in the Danish nursing homes had the highest level of formaldehyde content in the survey:
"We know that formaldehyde is associated with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and that when you live in a nursing home, you are almost always indoors. So the exposure takes place around the clock," says Professor Torben Sigsgaard from Aarhus University which was responsible for the Danish section of the project.

He emphasises, however, that the formaldehyde level is less than 20 per cent of the applicable guidelines for indoor climate.

Improved indoor climate - improved quality of life

In 2011, the Danish researchers visited six nursing homes around Jutland and carried out a number of clinical trials, including testing the lung functions of the residents, as well as carrying out a health questionnaire-based survey.
"With this study we have embarked on a research field that has so far been overlooked and we have shown that the indoor environment has a huge impact on the health of elderly people, particularly when it comes to the lungs," says Torben Sigsgaard.

The analyses show an independent effect of several indoor pollutants. At the same time, it is known that the body's ability to withstand harmful air pollutants weakens with age:
"In other words, elderly people are among the most vulnerable in society, but a better indoor environment can increase their quality of life," says Torben Sigsgaard.

In 2030, the number of elderly people above the age of 80 in the EU will have doubled to 34.7 million people.



  • A total of 600 residents with an average age of 82 participated in the study.
  • In addition to nursing homes in Denmark, researchers from the project visited nursing homes in Belgium, France, Greece, Italy, Poland and Sweden.
  • The researchers have collected data on five indoor air pollutants: PM10 and PM0.1 (particles of up to 10 and 0.1 microns respectively), formaldehyde, nitrogen oxide (NO2) and ozone (O3).
  • None of the values in the study exceeded the applicable guidelines for indoor climate.


Further information:

Professor Torben Sigsgaard
Aarhus University, Department of Public Health – Section for Environment, Occupation and Health
Mobile: +45 2899 2426