The skin is the largest organ of the body making up almost 16% of our total body weight. It is a layer of cells, tissues, and fat that is continuously working hard as our first line of defense against invading bacteria. It protects the body from cold or heat, toxins, and bacterial infections as well as the harmful rays of the sun.
Aging is equal to structural and functional changes in our body, the skin’s overall capacity declines as we age. The three layers of the skin and its function is as follows:
- Epidermis – the outermost layer of the skin that influences our skin color. This is heavily exposed to the sun’s rays may become thinner in the long run and easily damaged.
- Dermis – the next in line which houses the blood vessels, hair and sweat glands. Pigmented.
- Subcutaneous – a cushiony layer of fat on the skin that provides warmth or insulation. This is why most elderly easily feel cold or warm.
Common Elderly Skin Problems
- Dermatitis – overly dry and itchy skin. In some cases, present medication taken by the patient is the cause of this skin condition.
- Exfoliative Dermatitis – severe skin peeling or shedding that may lead to a serious skin or systemic infection.
- Skin Discoloration (Senile Purpura) purple spots on arms and legs. The skin is so thin exposing blood vessels and capillaries that giving a bruised like color.
- Infections – (Bacterial or Fungal) rash or swelling can form on some parts of the body that may feel warm to the touch.
- Skin Tags (overgrowth skin) – excess skin may protrude from the skin layer but may not be alarming by itself. Though keen observation needs to be done when the change in shape or color.
Caring for Elderly Skin and Prevention of Skin Problems
1. Avoid skin irritants
Sanitary products, bed sheets and clothes should be changed regularly. Avoid scented and strong cleaning substances like soaps or laundry detergents that can cause dryness and itchiness. It may leave the skin irritated and sore.
2. Moisturize after a bath
A shower is good to cleanse the body with dirt and other unwanted substances but too much of it can also damage and stain the skin. When you shower or bath avoid using steamy or hot water as well as adding bath oil as it can make the tub slippery.
Hydration for elderly skin is important. Apply moisturizers after every shower or as frequently as to fit activities within the day. Emollients are available in pharmacy stores with many kinds to choose from:
- Ointments give a more moisturizing effect on the skin but can feel greasy.
- Lotions are mostly water-based combinations easily absorbed but may washout too soon.
- Creams having just the right balance of water and fatty substance is easily absorbed on the skin and give longer protection.
3. Turn on a Humidifier
The American Osteopathic College of Dermatology and the CNN health website reminds people to maintain humidity level at 30-55% especially throughout the fall and winter season. In the cold weather, the skin tends to be dry and prone to itchiness and infection. But moisture in the air will help maintain the skin’s softness and texture. It is wise to invest in humidifiers and place it in the room for a continuous humid atmosphere.
4. Good Hygiene
The skin needs proper cleaning and drying as well. Every part can be a place for bacteria to overgrow or fungus to cause infection. Also, make sure to use dermatologically tested products that are gentle on the skin but tough on preventing skin problems.
5. Habits and Diet
Avoid smoking cigarettes or cigars. Drink water daily or keep hydrated especially when outside hot weather. Apply adequate sunblock when out to run an errand or even when inside the car waiting.
It is best to have a diet rich in fruits and vegetables or food rich in antioxidants and vitamins. Green vegetables like spinach, fruits like melons or berries and healthy fat sources like salmon and walnuts help keep the skin healthy.
Visit a dermatologist regularly for evaluation of possibly malignant moles. Age spots or skin tags may be surgically removed when it appears bothersome for the elderly. Watch out for allergic reactions that may come from newly prescribed medication or adverse effects from maintenance drugs.
It is interesting to note that skin problems have both physical and psychological effect on an elderly’s daily living.
Physical challenges may present itself as sleep disturbances, irritability or chronic discomfort. In some serious cases like systemic allergic reactions or drug adverse effects, certain organs of the body may be seriously affected.