It is essential that older people take care of the largest organ in the body, our skin. As we age, our skin changes. It becomes drier, thinner, and less supple. Elderly skin also injures more easily and heals more slowly. Aging adults are prone to skin problems ranging from itching, scaling and mild dryness, to grave skin conditions such as infection and ulcerations. A severe skin infection or non-healing wound in the elderly can be serious and even fatal.
"Sun exposure is the most common cause of pre-cancers and skin cancer."
— Skin Cancer Foundation
Common Skin Conditions in Older Adults
- Senile Purpura: Purplish spots that appear most often on the arms and legs due to thinness of the person's skin and frailty of the capillaries and blood vessels just below the surface.
- Stasis Dermatitis: Dry, itchy skin, which is more common in elderly women than men.
- Exfoliative Dermatitis: A more severe form of dermatitis, it is characterized by excessive peeling and shedding of skin, which is of particular concern in the elderly because the severe itching can lead to infections.
- Skin Infections / Infestations: Bacterial infections and parasitic infestations such as scabies or ringworm.
- Cancerous and noncancerous skin growths: Benign neoplasms or skin growths like seborrheic keratoses, often referred to as “skin barnacles.”
- Viral skin disorders: Examples include shingles and herpes zoster.
Good Skin Health for Seniors
In general, the elderly have special skin care needs because aging skin is so thin and dry. If their skin becomes too dry, it is prone to cracking and dermatitis, which allows for penetration of bacteria that can result in infection. The elderly should:
- Avoid hot baths and frequent showers.
- Use only mild soaps, and gently apply moisturizers to the skin after every shower or bath.
- Turn bed-ridden seniors frequently to avoid bed sores and pressure-sensitive ulcers.
- Change absorbent products and catheters frequently.
To promote good skin health, seniors should also:
- Quit smoking
- Wear sunscreen whenever exposed to the sun.
- Drink fluids regularly to keep properly hydrated.
- Use a room humidifier during the winter and in dry climates
- Avoid hot and dry places, such as saunas