Skin problems can take on different forms as we age – here are some ways to identify, prevent and treat different skin disorders for your elderly loved ones.
Why does our skin change with age?
We can become more prone to various skin conditions as we age. As we age, we lose collagen, the protein that makes our skin elastic, resulting in a saggy appearance. Our skin also becomes thinner and drier, making it more prone to cracking or tearing.
Changes in the tissues that underlie our skin, including when we lose or gain weight, can alter the appearance of the skin. As we age, we are also more likely to have circulation problems, and our ability to heal and fight infections may also be reduced. Certain underlying or pre-existing conditions — whether from existing diagnoses or new conditions — can affect skin health.
There are also certain medications – steroids, blood thinners and others – that can cause skin changes. Sometimes medications needed to treat skin conditions, such as steroid creams for eczema, can cause thinning of the skin leading to problems later in life.
What are the common skin problems faced by older people?
This common skin problem can become even more common as we age and cause more problems as the natural drying of older skin makes dry skin conditions worse.
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The medical name for itchy skin; Pruritus or pruritic conditions are characterized by itching and discomfort. Keeping the skin well hydrated can help, but a doctor may advise mild steroid creams or antihistamines for problematic itching.
The early stages of rosacea are facial redness, which then leads to tiny broken veins and permanent redness, especially on the cheeks and nose. It is usually more noticeable in people with lighter skin, but can affect anyone.
Thinning of the skin
It can affect anyone as we age, but it’s a particular problem for people who have had to take steroids like prednisolone or use steroid creams for skin conditions. Thin “tissue paper” skin is more prone to tearing and bruising may show more under thinner skin.
Without necessarily having a clear cause like eczema, dry skin becomes common as we age because we produce less of the natural oils that keep our skin healthy – or made our skin oily in our youth! Using an unscented moisturizer designed for delicate or sensitive skin can help keep skin supple and comfortable.
Not strictly a skin condition, but one that causes skin lesions and damaged tissues where the weight of the body presses on fragile tissues. Pressure sores, sometimes called “pressure sores,” are a particular problem for people who are unable to move around a lot and who change positions to relieve weight and pressure.
Dry skin can be prone to cracking, which can be a particular problem for people with conditions that cause lower extremity swelling like heart failure or lymphedema. As the tissues under the skin swell, the skin is stretched and may develop small breaks that give it the appearance of cracked porcelain or areas of larger split skin.
As we age, we may find that we don’t heal as easily, and even a small bump or cut to the skin can turn into a problematic ulcer. Circulation problems make us more susceptible to developing ulcers, and they’re especially common in the lower legs and in people with conditions that affect circulation like diabetes or peripheral vascular disease.
Benign skin tumors
Every new or changing mole should be evaluated by a doctor, but benign — non-cancerous — skin tumors are common in older people.
Besides skin conditions that cause problems like pain or itching, people may notice other changes to their skin as they age – for example, areas of skin that become darker than your loved one’s usual skin color are common, especially in people who have spent a lot of time in the sun.
Sometimes called “age spots”, “liver spots” or seborrheic dermatosis, they are usually not a problem, but any significant skin changes should be evaluated by a doctor.
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The most common changes in our skin that we associate with aging are wrinkles. These are a natural and normal part of aging and affect everyone to some degree. People who have been exposed to the sun a lot and people who smoke tend to have more wrinkles than others.
Areas of the face that move the most – around the mouth, eyes and forehead – tend to develop wrinkles sooner than less mobile areas of the face and body. Wrinkles reflect changes in the elasticity of the skin and underlying tissues, and although they cannot be avoided, their appearance can be minimized by good skin care and proper hydration.
How to prevent skin problems
We can’t prevent the changes that underlie the common skin problems we experience as we age, but there are steps we can take to manage them and maintain healthy skin.
Good skin care reduces the risk of serious problems and can help the skin maintain its integrity. Treatment can make a big difference to skin integrity and reduce the type of cracking and weakness that can allow bacteria to penetrate deeper layers of skin and cause infections like cellulitis and abscesses.
Managing dry skin can help prevent serious problems because healthy skin provides an essential protective layer against infections and fluid loss.
Well-hydrated skin with a simple oily product is less likely to crack and flake, and using simple moisturizers as a soap substitute can help prevent the dryness and irritation that can be caused by conventional soaps. . Avoiding heavily scented or drying products can help reduce the risk of irritation that can make skin more sensitive and cause more problems.
Existing skin conditions need to be carefully managed as we age, so it is important to use the creams and treatments recommended by our doctors. Changes in existing skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis should be re-evaluated by a doctor and some treatments, like strong steroid creams, may need to be used with extra caution on thinning older skin.
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Treatment of common skin problems
Some skin problems can be managed well with good care. with a careful routine to maintain healthy skin and support to prevent injuries from walking and mobility issues.
More serious problems need urgent treatment, as cracked or broken skin can allow bacteria to penetrate deep skin tissues and poor skin condition can easily lead to infections.
An infection in the deeper layers of the skin causes hot, red, and painful areas of skin, and can even cause systemic infections, where people can experience flu-like symptoms, fever, and can become seriously ill with sepsis. Suspected infections should be evaluated by a doctor because early treatment can prevent serious problems.
Any skin tumors – areas of unusual darkening, new moles or freckles that appear lumpy or with uneven, jagged edges should be evaluated urgently.
Can skin problems be a sign of an underlying condition?
Most skin conditions are not a sign of a serious underlying problem, but some may reflect other changes in our bodies. Skin that bruises more easily than usual and bruises that take much longer to fade can indicate blood clotting problems or other conditions, so it’s important to see a doctor.
Certain medications can also cause changes in skin health and make us more likely to bruise easily or less able to heal well. Skin that does not heal well can also be associated with vitamin or mineral deficiencies. A doctor may therefore recommend a specialist evaluation and blood tests if you have any new concerns.
Skin cancers can cause serious illnesses and require prompt treatment. Therefore, if you suspect that a skin condition could indicate cancer, it is important to seek urgent medical advice. The sooner we treat the cancer, the better the results.
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This article was first published in Tribute.