Like most things, we change as we age. The most notable change you may find… is in your skin. As we get older we start to notice less elasticity – more wrinkles and fine lines. What we don’t notice as much are the common skin conditions that can start to develop in our senior years. Skin conditions can become more numerous and sometimes even more noticeable then the common coming-of-the-age – aging. Especially when we’re already losing fat, moisture, and collagen in our skin.
As we grace ourselves into our elderly years our skin cell turnover decreases dramatically. This can weaken the immune system, cause skin infections to be more common and slows down wound healing. You may wake up one day to find more bruising and age spots taking up real estate.
Most of these things are harmless some, require medical attention.
It’s good to be aware of the possible common skin conditions to look for when it comes to our loved ones and even our future selves. Here are a few of the top common skin conditions you may find in elderly adults.
Skin Tags: Skin tags can start at any age. You may find them as early as your teenage years. Much like age spots, they’re harmless. They tend to look like flesh-colored soft, spongy tissue that you can find on the eyelids, thighs, skin folds, neck, under the breasts, groin, and armpits.
You may find them more common in people who are overweight, have diabetes, in women, and older adults. They are not painful but can become irritated if they are hanging from the skin in small stalks and jewelry or clothing snags them.
- Skin tags are harmless, but if you want one removed, see a dermatologist. A dermatologist will remove it for you.
- Don’t try to remove a skin tag yourself. It’s a bad idea for several reasons.
Skin Tears : Elderly adults develop more fragile skin as they age. The skin becomes susceptible to tearing especially in those who take topical corticosteroids. Oral or topical corticosteroids usually weaken the skin.
This could mean a tear from something as simple as bumping into something, or when removing tape or a band aid of sorts.
To help fight against tears:
- Use moisturizer and drink plenty of water to keep skin hydrated, which can help prevent tears.
- Wear long pants and a long-sleeved shirt or arm sleeves to protect the skin.
- If a small tear occurs, wash the wound with gentle soap and water. Put the skin flap back in place if there is one, then cover the wound with gauze.
- See a doctor for more serious tears or if you notice signs of infection, such as redness, swelling, fever, worsening pain or a bad odor.
Itchiness and Dryness: We naturally lose moisture in our skin, in fact, dry skin is very common in elderly adults. More than half of older adults deal with dry skin. One of the main reasons we develop dry skin is a loss of sweat and oil glands. In addition to not drinking enough water. Which we need at every age!
In addition, senior adults may be dealing with chronic conditions such as diseases like kidney disease and diabetes. These chronic health conditions can cause itching and dryness as well as some of the medications used to treat these chronic health issues.
With these conditions, skin can become cracked and painful. This can cause irritation and might prompt a person to scratch at it. Opening the skin this way can open a new way for infection to enter the body.
There are a few ways to counteract dry and itchy skin:
- Take shorter, cooler baths or showers and use a moisturizing soap (skip the deodorant soap)
- Use a moisturizing ointment or cream daily. (Avoid lotions, which contain more water.) CeraVe, Cetaphil and Vanicream all make gentle, effective moisturizers.
- Drink more water.
- Run a humidifier if the air is dry.
- If the itching doesn’t subside, tell your doctor. It could be a sign of liver, kidney or thyroid disease.
Age Spots: Due to years of sun exposure, older adults will often find their skin dotted with age spots. Normally dark, tan, and flat brown spots or liver spots. You’ll normally find them around the areas of skin that have gotten the most sun over the years. This can mean the back of the hands, arms, and face. Although you may think there’s reason to look into these, don’t worry, they’re harmless.
Here are a few ways to combat the emergence of age spots over the years:
- Wear sunscreen with at least 30 SPF to help prevent more age spots from developing.
- See a dermatologist to make sure the spots are in fact age spots and not something else, especially if they change in appearance.
- If your age spots bother you, a skin care provider can treat them.
Bruising: Not only does the skin thin out as we get older but blood vessels become more fragile and easily broken. Elderly people will bruise more often when blood leaks out of blood vessels. When there are more broken vessels there is more bruising, especially for seniors who are taking blood thinners or over-the-counter painkillers. This could be medication such as aspirin or ibuprofen.
This means that simple cuts or scratches could cause an unusual amount of bruising. These are normally harmless. However, if bruising seems to appear without any logical reason, make sure to talk to your doctor. This could eliminate any possibility for additional underlying health problems.
For those of us who are caregivers, most accidental bruises may be found on the extremities. However, if there’s any reason to suspect abuse, bruising may occur on the head, torso, and/or neck. They also tend to be larger than most accidental bruises.
- Apply a cold compress for up to 20 minutes a time.
- Apply Dermaka cream, a bruise treatment made with plant extracts and vitamins, according to the package directions.
- If a leg or foot is bruised, keep it elevated when resting.
Shingles: Shingles becomes a real increased risk for those adults who had chickenpox as children. However, older adults in general are increasingly vulnerable.
Shingles starts out as a painful rash that itches, tingles, burns, and is an extremely sensitive area of the skin which develops normally alongside a headache or fever. This rash can eventually blister and turn into a skin infection with possible long-term complications of nerve pain.
Preventive ways to take action:
- See a doctor as soon as symptoms appear. Early treatment with an oral antiviral medication may reduce the duration and severity of an outbreak.
- Take an over-the-counter pain medication for pain and use cool compresses, calamine lotion and lukewarm baths with colloidal oatmeal (oats ground into a fine powder) for itching.
- To prevent shingles, get both doses of the Shingrix vaccine.
Bed Sores: People with diabetes or poor nutrition deal with a higher risk of developing bed sores than the average person. This includes older adults who are bedridden or wheelchair bound and have poor circulation. Bed sores are open wounds that develop in areas that deal with a lot of pressure when one sits or lays down. Also known as pressure ulcers.
Some of the more common areas bed sores may develop are the backs of the knees, shoulder blades, heels, and tailbone.
Once bed sores develop they can be difficult to treat. Without proper treatment they may become infected.
Here are a few ways to avoid bed sores:
- In bed, reposition every two hours. In a wheelchair, change position every 15 minutes.
- Keep skin clean and dry.
- Watch for redness and warmth in one area of the skin; it’s an early warning sign. If you’re a caregiver, call the doctor if you notice this or see a sore, scrape or blister. A wound care nurse may be needed to coordinate care.
- Consider a gel or foam mattress topper or a mattress with alternating air pressure, which can help prevent pressure sores.
Skin Cancer: Melanoma increases in risk with age. In addition to having more years contribute to skin damage from the sun, older adults have a decreased ability to repair pre-cancerous cell. Slower-growing basal cell and squamous cell cancers become more common which makes age the strongest risk factor for non-melanoma skin cancers.
Ways to help early detection of skin growths – cancerous and non-cancerous:
- Perform a skin check once a month to look for new growths and changes in existing moles. Evaluate moles using the ABCDE test. Make an appointment with your dermatology provider if you see something suspicious.
- Have a skin cancer screening based on the schedule your dermatologist recommends, but at least once a year.
As we age, we become more fragile and our preventative measures increase over time. Talk to your dermatologist if you deal with one or any of the above skin conditions, or know and/or are a caregiver to an elderly adult who might need some additional guidance.
Have Questions About Common Skin Conditions? Call Balshi Dermatology in Delray Beach, FL
To schedule a preliminary consultation about your skin questions and concerns, call board-certified dermatologist in Delray Beach, contact Balshi Dermatology at (561) 272-6000 or send us a message on our Contact Page to set up your appointment.