As we age our body encounters many changes. One of the areas we experience change in is our skin. It becomes thinner, dryer and less supple. It becomes easy to injure, and heals much more slowly. Aging skin is very thin and dry. If allowed to become too dry, it can become damaged and allow for penetration of bacteria that can result in infection. Seniors are more likely to develop skin problems, especially in the winter months. These problems can range from itching, scaling, and dryness to more severe issues such as ulcerations and infections. A non-healing wound or severe skin infection in the elderly can lead to a hospitalization or even death.
Some of the more common skin conditions afflicting seniors are:
· Cancerous and non-cancerous growths.
· Senile Purpura. This condition is characterized by purple spots appearing on the extremities due to thinness of the elder person’s skin and frailty of the capillaries and blood vessels below the surface of the skin.
· Stasis Dermatitis. This is dry, itchy skin.
· Exfoliative Dermatitis. This is a more severe version of the above. However, Exfoliative Dermatitis can result in excessive peeling and shedding of the skin. This can extremely dangerous for seniors, as the severe itching can lead to skin infection.
Addressing the skin care needs of seniors can be a low maintenance affair with a few simple lifestyle adjustments. Changing a daily routine can pay big dividends.
· Quit smoking. Beside the damage done to your cardiovascular system, smoking also damages your skin, and minimizes its’ ability to repair itself.
· Take extra care to avoid developing bedsores, particularly for those who are incontinent or bed ridden. These individuals need to be turned frequently to avoid pressure sensitive ulcers. It is very important that absorbent products and catheters are changed frequently.
· Stay out of the sun if you are not using sun block. As seniors are more susceptible to cancerous and non-cancerous growths, it is imperative that they use sun block whenever they will be out in the sun.
· Use a room humidifier during the winter months. Keeping moisture in the air will help a senior’s skin keep some suppleness and reduce the effects of dry skin conditions.
· Stay hydrated. Fluid intake impacts our skins’ condition. Seniors should make sure that they are getting at least a couple of glasses of water daily to help keep moisture in their skin.
In addition to lifestyle changes, seniors can benefit from adding a couple of steps to their body care regimen. Seniors can “spoil themselves rotten” while ensuring that they do all they can to take care of their skin. By taking an extra couple of minutes daily, seniors can have their skin look and feel much better.
· Take care of your home. Keeping your home and bedding clean can lead to healthier skin. Avoid hot water as this can dry out skin very rapidly. Avoid using chemicals such as chlorine, as chlorine irritates dry skin. When you clean wear gloves to lower your risk of exposure to irritants. Wash bedding and vacuum at least weekly. Dust mites have been found to irritate skin, making irritated skin harder to heal.
· Reduce baths/showers. If a senior does not have specialized care needs related to incontinence, they should skip daily showers or baths, especially hot showers or baths. When bathing, make sure that extra moisturizing products are used. Generally speaking, emollient preparations lubricate and moisturize the skin, counteracting dryness and itching.
· Lubricate. Use lotions appropriate for senior needs. Become a label reader and make sure that the skin product that is being used for the senior is meant for the senior. Some skin care products contain astringents which reduce oil in the skin. These products are good if you are a senior in high school, not so good if you are a senior citizen. Keep a small container by your sink and use it after every hand wash or bath/shower. Apply lotions to the skin when the skin is still moist from bathing. Try to apply lotions to the skin within three minutes of bathing or hand washing for maximum prevention of dryness. If you suffer from very dry skin and want to be sure the lotion you are using is thick enough to help, turn the container over and see if it drips or runs out. Thicker moisturizers and moisture barriers are your best bet.
Finally, when in doubt, ask the professionals. Skin conditions can be a result or side effect from prescription medications. Rashes related to medications can take weeks to appear. When beginning a new medication, keep a journal and note any changes coming after the medication has started. Some skin conditions can result from combining certain drugs and certain foods. If skin problems are noted and seemingly cannot be addressed by any of the above recommendations, see a medical provider for an evaluation of over the counter, prescription, and holistic treatments.