As skin ages it becomes more susceptible to cuts, bruises and drying. There is less fat under the skin, making it more vulnerable and it is thinner and less elastic. As a result, aging skin can bruise and tear more easily, scratches and cuts can take longer to heal, and that can increase the risk of infection. Caring for a senior’s skin and preventing it from becoming compromised is important to their overall health. If you care for a senior loved one, here are some important things to know about caring for aging skin.
You may notice that your senior loved one has one or several different types of skin conditions. Each requires a different type of care.
Dry patches or scaly skin
Dry skin can be caused by several different things including not drinking enough water, living in a house with very dry air, extreme stress, exposure to the sun, or health problems including diabetes and kidney disease. Some kinds of medication can dry out the skin, as can soaps and perfumes.
It’s important to treat dry skin because if your loved repeatedly itches or scratches it, it can break down and lead to infections. Treatments for dry skin include:
- Regular use of moisturizers, lotions and skin creams. It is especially effective to use these when emerging from the bath or shower when pores in the skin are open and can absorb more moisture.
- Drink more liquid, especially water, throughout the day and avoid caffeine which can contribute to itching in some people.
- Use moisturizing soap.
- Place a humidifier in the home to add moisture to the air.
Bruises can occur much more easily for a senior than for younger people because of the lower percentage of fat under the skin, fragile blood vessels that break more easily, and thinner skin. Something as simple as bumping into a dresser or the kitchen counter may cause the skin to bruise. However, it’s important to keep an eye on bruises on a senior because it may be an indication of things your loved one is not telling you, like increased falls. If you do see bruises on your loved one, you can care for them in the following way:
- Place a cold compress, or a kitchen towel wrapped around ice, to the area. The cold will reduce blood flow to the bruise and reduce inflammation.
- Stop taking medications that can contribute to bruising such as Advil, naproxen and ibuprofen.
- If your loved one is taking blood thinners and you see bruising contact his or her physician.
- If the bruise occurs on a foot or leg, keep the area elevated and have it checked by a physician.
- Talk to your loved one about the dangers of falls. Make sure the house has been made fall proof by removing throw rugs and piles of clutter on the floor.
Age spots and skin tags
Age spots are brown spots that occur on aging skin, often as the result of sun exposure. Your loved one should wear sunscreen daily and use it as a form of moisturizer, whether they are going outside or sitting by a window. It will protect their skin from sun exposure of any type.
Skin tags are tiny pieces of skin that are raised from the skin surface and are often seen on the neck, eyelids, armpit, chest and groin. They do not present a health hazard. Age, being overweight or having diabetes can increase skin tags. If for some reason they become bothersome or unsightly, skin tags can be removed when they are small. A dermatologist will be able to offer several alternatives. They can include:
It is most important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of skin cancer and have it treated immediately. Most skin cancer is caused by exposure to the sun over the course of many years. The three main types of skin cancer are:
- Basal cell carcinoma – slow growing, rarely spreads
- Squamous cell carcinoma – slow growing, rarely spread
- Melanoma – can spread to other organs
The easiest way to check for skin cancer is to look for visible changes on the skin. Rarely is skin cancer painful, so visible changes are the best indication that it may exist. The National Institute of Aging suggests using the acronym “ABCDE’s” as the easiest way to remember what to look for in monthly skin checks.
- A = Asymmetry (one half of the growth looks different from the other half)
- B = Borders that are irregular
- C = Color changes or more than one color
- D = Diameter greater than the size of a pencil eraser
- E = Evolving; this means the growth changes in size, shape, symptoms (itching, tenderness), surface (especially bleeding), or shades of color
If you notice any of these changes consult your loved one’s physician immediately.
Protect your senior loved one’s skin
It is just as important to protect your loved one’s skin as it is to treat it. Aging skin needs the greatest protection during the summer and winter months when the sun and cold temperatures can quickly dry it out. Fresh air and sunshine are important to good health and vitamin D from the sun can lift spirits and prevent depression, but the skin needs to be protected. Cold winter weather can worsen skin conditions like eczema and seborrheic dermatitis (patches of itchy, flaky skin) because the yeast that causes them thrives on the cold. Here are ways to protect your loved one’s skin against the elements.
Summer skin protection
- Use sunscreen year round. Read the label carefully and make sure the sunscreen you purchase protects against both UVA and UBV rays. It should have an SPF protection level of 30 or higher. Apply the sunscreen before going outside and don’t forget the tops of the feet and hands.
- Wear hats to protect bald heads or those with thinning hair.
- Use lip balm that has an SPF of 30.
- (Remember sunglasses to protect the eyes.)
Winter skin protection
- Use sunscreen as detailed above for summer skin protection.
- Lather on moisturizer to battle air that can be dry out from heat in the house or frigid temperatures outside. Some people may be allergic to lanolin so try to find moisturizers that do not have that ingredient.
- Drink lots fluids. They are a natural moisturizer.
- Protect all the skin when doing outdoors, even when going from the house to the car. Cover up all exposed skin to protect it from low temperatures and cold wind.
- Take shorter showers. This can help avoid stripping the skin of its natural moisture.
- Increase the humidity in the home. Humidifiers can put more moisture in the air.
Check the products that your loved one uses on his or her skin including soaps, creams and lotions. Make sure that they moisturize, instead of dry, the skin. The more protection that your loved one’s skin receives, the better it can protect them.
If you or your family member is considering in-home care as part of a plan to age in place, contact Family Matters In-Home Care today for a free consultation. Our team is dedicated to supporting your family and helping older adults enjoy life in the comfort of their own home for as long as possible.
Some of the services offered by Family Matter In-Home Care include: Alzheimer’s & Dementia Care, Bed & Wheelchair Transfer Assistance, Companionship, Housekeeping & Meal Preparation, Personal Care, Recovery Care, and Transportation.