Taking care of skin is a lifelong endeavor, but it should be a particular focus for seniors and their caregivers. As we age, the collagen in our skin is diminished, as is our protective layer of fat. This leads to thinner and less durable skin. Years of sun exposure takes its toll, as can the side effects of certain medications or dehydration. Even the sheer act of laying down or sitting too much in one position can cause serious skin discomfort and even open wounds.
Here are some of the most common skin conditions that affect the elderly, as well as how you can help to prevent them, treat them and/or provide some relief:
Dry and/or Itchy Skin
Not only will the skin feel dry and itchy for the senior, caregivers may notice patches of white, scaly or rougher skin – most notably on the arms and legs. Dry skin can be caused by a range of triggers, including dehydration, a dry interior climate, drinking and/or smoking, excess sun exposure, using soaps and body care products with fragrance.
- You can relieve dry skin by:
- Applying a fragrance-free lotion, targeted for dry or extra-dry skin
- Drinking plenty of water throughout the day
- Minimizing sun exposure
- Using a humidifier indoors
- Taking cooler baths/showers (hot water contributes to dry skin)
- Using mild soaps, shampoos and body washes
If dry skin becomes a problem, it’s worth having a conversation with the senior’s doctor to determine if there is something more going on, like a skin allergy or a reaction to a particular medication.
Thin skin means greater vulnerability to bruising. Ouch! Even a simple knock against a table edge or counter corner can leave a frightening bruise behind. Also, older people take longer to heal, so bruises can seem to last an inordinately long time. While there isn’t anything that can be done, shy of keeping vulnerable areas clothed as an extra layer of padding, it is worth checking in with the doctor if bruising seems excessive or if the senior can’t remember how the bruises were formed.
Age spots, also called “liver spots” are larger than freckles, and appear as large, flat brown spots on the skin’s surface. Since they are actually caused by sun exposure, age spots are typically found on the head, face, hands/arms and legs. They can’t be treated, and shouldn’t cause any pain or discomfort, but the use of a gently sunscreen can prevent more age spots from developing
Skin tags are a type of raised, flesh-colored mole that can sometimes grow quite pendulous. Women are more prone to developing skin tags than men, due to hormone differences, but anyone can get them. Skin tags are typically found on the eyelids and neck, as well as the folds of the body – the armpits, underneath the breasts, in the groin, etc. While usually painless, the tags can become irritated – especially if they are raised and get caught by clothing, nails or jewelry. If particular skin tags cause discomfort, they can be easily removed by a doctor or dermatologist.
One of the most common types of cancer, skin cancer is usually nothing to worry about – as long as it is caught soon enough. It’s a good idea to check the entire body once a month so you get used to the various moles and freckle formations found on the skin’s surface.
By performing a visual inspection each month, you’ll be more likely to notice if any of the moles change. You should also schedule an annual appointment with a doctor or dermatologist for a professional once-over.
Use your ABCDE’s when evaluating moles:
- Asymmetrical borders – one half of the mole looks different than the other half.
- Borders that seem irregular.
- Color changes or more than one color, make a note if a mole seems to be darkening or changing colors from the last time you checked it.
- Diameter – the diameter of moles should be no bigger than a pencil eraser.
- Evolving – if the mole seems to be changing in terms of shape, color, size, pain or tenderness, from flat to raised, etc., it should be examined
If you notice any of these ABCDEs, schedule an appointment with the doctor.
Does your senior loved one live alone? Is your parent or grandparent unable to take care of themselves the way they used to? Consider taking advantage of in-home senior healthcare. Even a visit or two a week can be enough to ensure that your loved one is safe, healthy and happy.
Contact HomeAide Homecare to learn more about our services or to schedule an in-home consultation.