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Blood Oxygen Levels in the Elderly: What’s Normal?

Article by Daniel Westhead Daniel Westhead Sure Safe Alarms

Technology and data can be a great help to older people as they work to manage long-term health conditions. Devices like cameras and personal alarms help keep elderly people safe as they live at home independently, and medical technologies like blood pressure monitors can show seniors helpful information about their wellbeing.

Likewise, pulse oximeters, whether used at home or in a medical setting, are a simple device that can tell elderly people something important about their health. These technologies measure blood oxygen levels, which are just what they sound like – readings that indicate the amount of oxygen that is in the blood.

In this article, we’ll discuss what a normal blood oxygen level is, why a senior’s blood oxygen level matters and what medical conditions blood oxygen levels relate to.

What is a blood oxygen level reading?

Blood oxygen levels are measured with the units SpO2, meaning the saturation of oxygen in the blood. It’s important for red blood cells to be highly saturated with oxygen so that they can carry the oxygen to the rest of your body effectively.

Blood oxygen levels can be measured with a pulse oximeter, which is a small device that painlessly clips onto the fingertip. You’ve likely encountered one of these in your GP’s office or the hospital. They were also distributed for home use at the height of the Covid pandemic, as Covid was known to decrease blood oxygen levels in some people.

However, pulse oximeter readings are not flawless. For example, they may be inaccurate when a person is wearing nail polish. Medical professionals can also test blood oxygen levels by drawing blood from an artery, and this provides a more reliable reading.

If you are using a pulse oximeter at home, you will likely see two numbers on it. The number that is a percentage is your blood oxygen level. The other number is your heartrate in beats per minute.

What should blood oxygen be?

The SpO2 normal range is generally considered to be between 95% and 100%. Many medical sources suggest that 92% is the point at which a person should become seriously concerned and call 999. During the pandemic, the NHS advised people to call 111 or their GP when blood oxygen levels reached 93% or 94%.

However, some people with long-term medical conditions may have different normal blood oxygen levels. Elderly people also sometimes have lower blood oxygen levels than younger people.

For these reasons, if you are concerned about your blood oxygen levels, it’s best for you to ask your GP or a medical professional what a healthy SpO2 normal range would be for you.

What medical conditions might affect an older person’s blood oxygen level?

High altitudes often produce lower blood oxygen levels. Additionally, blood oxygen levels are affected by the functioning of the lungs, heart and cardiovascular system, as well as other medical concerns.

When an older person can’t breathe well, their body can’t take in sufficient oxygen to keep their blood oxygen levels where they should be. However, even if the lungs are taking in enough oxygen, the heart also needs to be able to beat strongly enough to move oxygen-rich blood from the lungs and through the body.

Therefore, medical conditions that can impact blood oxygen levels in an elderly person include:

Lastly, it’s worth mentioning that other factors can influence blood oxygen levels too. For example, carbon monoxide poisoning results in too little oxygen in the blood.

What do low SpO2 levels feel like?

Low SpO2 levels, or lower than normal blood oxygen levels, cause numerous symptoms. Older people experiencing low SpO2 levels might notice because they feel breathless or unable to breathe. Other symptoms can include:

  • Tiredness or fatigue
  • Confusion or agitation
  • Headache
  • Swelling around the ankles
  • Blueish lips or skin
  • Coughing
  • A racing or fast heartbeat.

Are low blood oxygen levels dangerous?

Ultimately, only a medical professional can assess your health and whether you have normal blood oxygen levels for your body. However, generally speaking, low blood oxygen levels can potentially be very serious. Organs including the heart and brain can be damaged when they don’t receive enough oxygen.

If you’re concerned about any of the symptoms we’ve mentioned here, it’s best for you to seek medical help to ensure you stay as healthy as possible.

Learn more about how SureSafe alarms can help protect the elderly

When an older person suffers from one of the long-term medical conditions that can result in lower than normal blood oxygen levels, such as COPD or heart failure, it’s natural for families to be concerned about what will happen if they suddenly feel ill, need help or even suffer a heart attack.

Fortunately, an elderly personal alarm can help to ease these concerns. For example, a simple one-touch alarm allows an older person to call for help by just pressing a single button. So, if an elderly person suddenly feels the onset of troubling low blood oxygen level symptoms like breathlessness, they don’t have to get up, find a phone and dial it. They can easily call for assistance by pressing the button on their pendant or watch alarm, which will always be within reach.

For families who are concerned about an older person’s risk of falls due to blood oxygen-related breathlessness or more serious events like heart attacks, an automatic fall detection alarm can offer great peace of mind. These alarms also come in pendant, watch or belt clip form. They detect when their wearer has fallen and call for help automatically, even if the wearer is unconscious or not able to press a button.

At SureSafe, we’re focused on providing affordable, highly rated personal alarms that help protect older people with a variety of concerns, including worries about the health impacts of low blood oxygen levels. If you’d like to chat with our expert team about what a SureSafe alarm could do for you or an elderly loved one, just give us a call on 0800 112 3201. You can also speak to us through our live chat or request a call back.

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