The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

August 10, 2008

Report: Elderly at higher risk from hazards found in homes

Ashley Morici

According to AARP Services and the EPA Aging Initiative, older people are at a higher risk of suffering major health issues from hazards found around their homes.

Items that may cause illness or even premature death in the elderly include: household cleaners that have harmful chemicals in them, pesticides, paints and solvents, clothing, furniture, draperies, carpet pads, stuffing in furniture and nonstick cooking pans. This information is provided by a recent AARP bulletin.

Household cleaners that may contain dangerous chemicals are ammonia, chlorine bleach, and glycol ethers that are found in substances that remove dirt and grime. Ammonia is a chemical that triggers asthma attacks. Chlorine bleach is a lung irritant and can be deadly if swallowed. And glycol ethers can be easily absorbed into the skin and eventually cause nerve damage.

Pesticides have been tied to Parkinson’s disease. Anyone with a weakened heart or lungs should steer clear of pesticides because they can cause arrhythmia and possibly heart attacks.

Paints and solvents like mineral spirits, metha-nol, xylene and turpentine can be used improperly and the fumes can put stress on lungs and heart, and eventually give the person an irregular heartbeat, says the EPA. Paints that can be harmful to older people especially include ones with Alkyd and oil bases to them because they tend to have higher amounts of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, in them.

Some older fabrics used in clothing contain formaldehyde, which is an upper respiratory irritant. Clothing made from natural fibers like cotton is a safer bet.

Furniture, draperies, carpet pads, stuffing in furniture and nonstick cooking pans all pose higher health risks to the elderly. It was not until 2000 that Scotchgard updated its formula in furniture and draperies to eliminate carcinogens found in its anti-stain treatments. Carpet pads and stuffing in older furniture and mattresses contain polybrominated diphe-nyl ethers, which are used as flame retardants in these products and have been shown to pose a risk to the thyroid gland and the nervous and reproductive systems in people.

Lastly, some nonstick cooking pans have been shown to release 15 different toxic chemicals, a few being carcinogens if the pans are left on a stove burner with no supervision, according to a study done by the Environmental Working Group, which is based in Washington and is a nonprofit research group.

There are ways to make sure the elderly person in your life does not become ill as a result of handling, inhaling or touching these various household items. To aid air circulation, make sure to have indoor plants around the house because they have been known to help purify the air; also put a whole-house air purifier in the home to ensure the air quality in the house is at optimal levels, open windows around the house to maintain air circulation, and make sure to air out new appliances because they can send out tons of chemicals depending on how new they are.

Safer alternatives are available when it comes to pesticides. For ants people can use cinnamon, bay leaves, cayenne pepper, or even baby powder all around the house. In cases of cockroach infestation using small amounts of part baking soda and part confectioner’s sugar can relieve any household of the pests. If you have mice running around your house, put cotton-dipped peppermint oil in close proximity to troublesome areas around the house. And if your cat cannot seem to kill the mice around the house, use its litterbox litter as a repellent as well.

Mosquitoes can be squashed by using 2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar in a glass of water placed on any deck or balcony, and if that doesn’t work than put lavender oil on wrists and elbows to ward off the critters. And finally, flies can be swatted away for good by putting small pouches of crushed mint all over the house, or a potted sweet basil plant will also do the trick.

The elderly are just as important as anyone else and so is their health. People need to make sure to check in on older people as often as possible, and help to ensure their lives continue to be fruitful, healthy and prosperous.

— E-mail:

amorici@register-herald.com