Confusion, memory loss and trouble keeping balance can all be signs of the natural aging process, but what if they were symptoms of something more dangerous? Carbon monoxide poisoning in a home is hazardous because it is undetectable to human senses and early symptoms are similar to less serious ailments. Although it is known as a silent killer, protecting aging parents from its dangers can be fairly easy if some simple steps are followed.
What is carbon monoxide?
Knowing what carbon monoxide is and how it affects the body is just as important as finding ways to avoid it. It is a colorless, odorless gas that is given off when things are burned, especially organic matter. It is naturally found in air in very low levels, but when it becomes concentrated it can cause health problems or even death. While everyone is susceptible to its effects, there are those that are more at risk, including:
*Children and the elderly
*Those with respiratory conditions, such as asthma or emphysema; cardiovascular disease; or anemia
*Someone engaging in strenuous physical activity
Carbon monoxide poisoning is more likely to occur in the winter months when space heaters and furnaces are used. At the same time, ventilation is often compromised through home winterization efforts. Because it has no smell or color, people can continue to breathe it in over long periods of time without knowing.
Causes of increased levels
Just about any combustible appliance that isn’t running properly has the possibility of increasing carbon monoxide levels in a house. To avoid this:
*Have heating systems and water heaters inspected annually by a technician qualified to issue gas safety certificates
*Never use a gas range or oven for heating
*If using combustible space heaters, use proper fuel
Recognizing the early signs of carbon monoxide poisoning can help prevent any of the serious effects from developing. The symptoms will worsen the longer the person is exposed and the higher the concentration. Elderly people, or those in poor health, will be particularly susceptible.
*Early signs – Mild headaches and breathlessness during moderate exercise
*Later signs – Severe headaches, dizziness, tiredness and nausea
*Most severe – Confusion, irritability, impaired judgment and loss of memory and coordination.
Since many of the signs mimic aging or illness, it can be difficult to determine if they are the result of those or carbon monoxide poisoning. Symptoms will disappear when time is spent away from the home if they are due to increased levels of carbon monoxide.
Perhaps the easiest way to prevent an elderly parent from succumbing to the dangerous gas is to properly install detectors specifically designed for it.
*Install one detector on each floor where sleeping occurs
*An additional detector should be placed near combustible appliances, such as a gas oven or water heaters
*They should be placed near the ceiling to be most effective
Finding ways to prevent carbon monoxide levels from increasing in an aging parent’s home is important, but knowing what to look for if concentrations do rise can be just as vital. Peace of mind can be found with just a little prevention and knowledge.
Mike Genner writes for a company that provides gas certificates for landlords and encourages all homeowners to have their heating appliances professionally inspected every year. He believes it is essential to take safety precautions to protect the elderly and vulnerable from the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning.