How to Prevent, Resolve Mold Sickness in Seniors Housing Communities 

by Jeff Shaw

By Jim Oliver, co-founder, Natural Home Solutions LLC

Hurricane Lee, Tropical Storm Ophelia and torrential rainfall across the country last autumn season have put more homes, apartments and living facilities at risk for leaking and flooding. Water-saturated structures are prime breeding grounds for mold, but there are ways to prevent, detect and remove it before it becomes a serious issue. For the seniors housing market, taking a proactive approach to mold may be a matter of life and death.

As we age, our weakened immune system makes it more difficult to fight off environmental pollutants. In order to keep senior residents healthy, operations and facility managers need to constantly monitor for the presence of mold.

Moisture is always the root cause of mold in homes and living communities, even if the water cannot be seen by the naked eye. Water is a very tricky — it will find its way through very small porous surfaces on any structure. In fact, a slow and steady water source can be the most hazardous and hardest to detect.

Common causes are foundation problems, poorly installed windows, roof concerns, storm damage, leaky pipes, HVAC issues, faulty appliances, bathroom vent issues and wet building materials. Because mold thrives in dark, warm environments, it is most commonly found in basements and attics. It can also originate in bathrooms that are not properly ventilated.

Because microscopic mold spores travel through the air undetected, when they land on wood, drywall and other moist, porous surfaces, they continue to produce new mold. Many property owners and maintenance managers do not even realize there is a mold infestation until it causes compromised health symptoms. 

For seniors without underlying issues, first-time exposure to mold can manifest as a long, painful headache, tightening in the chest, and burning sensations in the airways that cause wheezing, sneezing and coughing. Others may experience difficulty breathing, fever, nose bleeds and skin irritation. 

Since mold exposure can present symptoms that mimic common ailments among the elderly, like arthritis, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, influenza, pneumonia and even depression, the presence of mold can oftentimes lead to the wrong medical treatment. Additionally, mold exposure acts as a trigger to low-grade viral and bacterial infections such as shingles, streptococcus, vertigo and chronic sinusitis that can quickly spread among the aged population.

It is therefore imperative for housing and maintenance directors to recognize the warning signs of a toxic mold infestation for the safety and health of their residents, as well as to avoid costly abatement processes and potential legal action. Since mold thrives in dark, humid and warm environments, it can proliferate undetected within porous materials, small cracks and wall cavities. The key to controlling indoor mold growth in a seniors housing facility is to control the moisture level.

How to detect a mold issue

So, how can you tell if your senior housing facility has a mold problem? Obvious indicators are musty smells, black spots on walls and ceilings, water stains or warped materials. A thriving mold colony can also rot wooden flooring, destroy drywall, generate cosmetic and structural damage, and ruin interior furnishings. 

However, because mold spores are microscopic, the best way to detect it is through an air quality test or a surface strip test that is conducted by a professional mold remediation company and analyzed at a third-party lab. 

It is crucial that testing or treating a senior living property for mold contamination complies with applicable government and health department standards and certifications. An independent laboratory will analyze the air and tape samples by comparing the results to an outdoor control sample. The report will specify the exact levels and species of contamination. 

If mold has taken hold of an area, avoid solutions that may pose their own health hazards. Oftentimes, mold removal companies want to use harmful chemicals to clean up the visible mold colonies. The issue with this approach is that the chemicals stop at the surface and are used up in the process and evaporate away, while often exacerbating health comprising issues within the senior client. 

Traditional mold removal may also incorporate a destructive strategy that requires tear-down, removal, and replacement of contaminated surfaces. This type of drastic action is often labor-intensive and far more costly than eco-friendly abatement solutions. It can also spread spores as the contaminated materials are moved around.

Since mold is a substance found in the environment, the superior way to fight it is by using natural, organic enzymes. EnzyCleanse is a popular solution that was created by scientists at XSPOR Life Sciences as a safe alternative to toxic chemicals. The formula acts as a catalyst, breaking down mold roots and spores while eliminating contamination. What’s more, it continues working to prevent more mold growth long after the treatment.

EnzyCleanse is applied using a fogger to penetrate contaminated surfaces, small and difficult-to-reach areas and duct work to circulate purified air around the affected building. It is non-toxic, organic, and safe for humans or pets. Further, the enzymes are specific to biological contaminants and do not cause any damage to personal property.

How to keep mold away

After cleaning the affected areas, the best way to prevent a new mold influx is for maintenance managers to regularly run dehumidifiers and air scrubbers. Dehumidifiers remove the humidity, while air scrubbers eliminate the mold spores from the air. 

To prevent mold contamination from occurring in the first place, housing directors may consider following five key measures: 

  • Routinely inspect the outside of the seniors housing property for foundation problems, poorly installed windows, clogged gutters, roof concerns, poor drainage and storm damage to avoid water flow.
  • Keep indoor humidity levels between 30 percent and 50 percent. Use a portable dehumidifier and an oscillating fan in the opposite corner of an area that is consistently above 60 percent humidity. Consider an HVAC-compatible, whole-building dehumidifier as well.
  • Install bathroom fans and attic vents to remove moisture.
  • Use mold-resistant building materials, such as wallboard, paint primer and porcelain. Avoid carpeting, as rugs with a high pile are prone to collecting mold and mildew.
  • Regular professional testing can detect mold contamination early enough to prevent serious problems and avoid costly property repairs.
  • Engage a professional mold remediation expert to continually inspect HVAC systems, laundry rooms, washing machines and unoccupied spaces for mold infestation to minimize risks.

It is important to note that sometimes an elderly tenant is responsible for allowing mold to thrive due to moisture from a leaky faucet, overflowing sink or rain entering a window that doesn’t close properly. 

In addition to inspection, testing and remediation services, operations managers should conduct frequent mold education sessions for its senior residents. Once they understand how it grows and contaminates their living spaces, causing dangerous consequences, they can assume some of the responsibility for prevention and adverse outcomes.

In conclusion, mold spores grow rapidly and uncontrollably when they have enough moisture, warmth and porous surfaces. By the time a facilities manager notices a problem, the mold contamination may already be causing serious harm to the building and its residents. It is this person’s duty to mitigate mold problems with immediate evaluation and testing.

When property owners fail to fix mold problems in a timely manner, they can become legally responsible for mold-related illnesses or property damage. By getting a professional mold company involved, the facility proves due diligence and establishes a timeline of resolution. If a resident still continues to pursue litigation, the professional testing process documents important evidence. It can also provide an expert opinion to help your attorney structure a defense.

The bottom line when it comes to mold in a senior housing business: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Jim Oliver is co-owner of Natural Home Solutions LLC, a mold removal company committed to keeping homes and businesses safe from mold contamination.

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