The importance of good ventilation in care homes

Good ventilation can be important in any building, helping to promote air circulation and regulating heat. Beyond this, ventilation is responsible for the ‘quality’ of the air the occupants breathe. In modern buildings, with all manner of machinery and electrical appliances working away, with various occupants and foodstuffs, as well as waste of different types, air flow becomes vital in removing contaminants from the environment.

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Honing in on the care home: An environment that demands good ventilation

In care homes, factors that can apply to any building such as a private home or an office, become magnified. For one thing, there are many more people sharing the space. Okay, care homes tend to be much bigger than private homes, and an office space may have a higher density of people in it, but the difference is in how the space is used.

Care homes are, essentially, domestic spaces with a lot of people in them. They are also a workplace with people coming and going. Although they are large, the communal spaces are often occupied by a lot of people for much of the day. As the residents are there because they need special care, this can mean they are often in some way ill or infirm, and this in turn may cause further contaminants to be brought into the environment. Then we consider the number of people coming and going from the building – staff, visitors – all who have their own ability to bring their own contaminants. So, although they are larger than most domestic spaces, and although they might be less densely populated than many commercial premises, the potential for poor air quality and the proliferation of viruses is probably significantly greater.

The problem with the most modern of buildings

Within modern buildings, with excellent insulation and efficient heating systems, overheating can occur easily. While great emphasis is given to the production and retention of heat, not enough priority is always given to heat regulation. This can be uncomfortable for anybody, but in the case of the elderly, can quickly become dangerous, giving an increased risk of health problems, such as strokes. In winter, efficient heating and heat retention can be a benefit – although this always needs to be balanced with the ability to moderate – but in the warmer months, especially during a ‘heat wave’, the ability to moderate temperature downwards becomes extremely important.

A disproportionate amount of instances of overheating occur in homes built since 2000, compared to older buildings, with temperatures above 25 degrees being the point above which there is a sharp increase in the potential for strokes and death. Although the numbers of heat-related deaths are still minor compared to those caused by the cold, studies do suggest that they look to be on the rise.

Air quality: Caring, coughs and viruses 

The other main issue with ventilation in care homes relate to air quality. Broadly, this can be further split down into two factors. The first relates to any environment, in terms of just making it a pleasant place for everyone to be – staff and residents. Not to make a pun, but so much ‘caring’ is going on in a care home. This means cooking and the eating of that food, possibly in public areas. It means treating of illness, it means providing personal care for those who cannot do it for themselves. This creates smells and mess. There will be clinical waste, body fluids and other things. There’s no getting around it. Good ventilation helps move smells, smoke and whatever else along, making the environment more pleasant to be in, the air better to breathe.

Secondly, and maybe a little more on point, care homes contain many physically vulnerable people. For the elderly or otherwise infirm, relatively minor viruses can pose a serious threat to health. It’s arguable that care homes are, by the nature of so many people living fairly statically in one place, but with outsiders coming in, likely to have more illness present in the first place. Keeping illness and, indeed, all contaminants as restricted as possible, particularly stopping anything airborne being passed between residents, is vital. Good ventilation will assist this, by removing the contaminants from the environment as soon as possible and replacing them with fresh, clean air.

 


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