Ageing is a biological process and the problems associated with it are multifarious. When it comes to matters of the skin, while some only have an increase in wrinkles to worry about, others face a lot of skin conditions, which can cause severe health concerns. Here we discuss some of the common ones.
Xerosis is the most common problem in the elderly—the skin becomes dry, cracked, fissured and scaly. It occurs mostly on the legs, but sometimes is also seen on the hands and other body parts. As we age, our sebaceous [oil-secreting glands] and sweat glands become less active, leading to depletion of skin moisture. This happens primarily because the skin begins to lose its elasticity and the ability to repair damage. Factors like cold, dry weather or harsh cleansers and soaps exaggerate the condition.
What to do: Avoid taking long or frequent baths/showers, as this further dries the skin. Replace harsh detergents and soaps with mild and gentle cream cleansers. After bathing, dry the skin well. If skin stays wet for too long, it becomes prone to fungal infection and rashes.
Keeping your skin well-hydrated is the best way to prevent dry, itchy skin. Apply moisturiser all over the body after bath and at bedtime. This seals in the body’s natural moisture, and keeps the skin hydrated. Wear gloves and socks to protect palms and soles at night and keep skin soft and supple.
Due to hypertension and reduced circulation in the arteries, leg ulcers are common in the elderly. Ulcers may also form due to inactiveness, obesity, diabetes or some other systemic disease. Symptoms start with swelling in the leg followed by change in skin colour [turning pale or reddish-brown] and excruciating pain.
What to do: Lifestyle changes such as being more active, giving up alcohol and smoking, eating a nutritious diet and maintaining ideal weight help prevent this.
Bed sores are most often seen in people who are confined to bed for long. They happen due to constant unrelieved pressure to the skin. This kind of pressure hampers blood flow to the tissues leading to blisters or open sores. Being immobile for long makes the skin too moist because of sweat or urine, aggravating the situation.
What to do: Ease the pressure on a particular area by shifting positions regularly. Use a mattress that spreads body weight evenly like an air or water bed. To treat the sores, keep the area clean and covered. Change bedsheets daily, particularly if the elderly is sweaty or suffers from incontinence. You can use foam pads to protect their arms and legs. A nutritious diet and some sort of exercise speeds up the healing process.
Immunity is another factor that gets compromised with age, making it easier for germs and bacteria to enter the dry and cracked skin of the elderly. This is why they are more prone to various infections. Special care needs to be taken to avoid infections, especially in case of diabetics. If not taken care of, infections could lead to gangrene, which, in severe cases, results in amputation.
The most common infections in elders [diabetics in particular] are fungal and bacterial skin infections in warm and moist parts of the body like armpits, genital, folds in the skin and between the toes. The skin appears cracked, inflamed and is very itchy.
What to do: Keep the skin hygienic and dry at all times to avoid infections. Wear clean clothes every day—it is a must to change your socks and undergarments daily. Using anti-fungal powder or cream provides relief and prevents the infection.
Elderly people suffer from a host of skin-related changes. These are usually related to cumulative sun damage [the amount of sun exposure—especially to the ageing UVA rays—the person has had throughout his/her life].
Photo ageing results in fine lines and wrinkles, discolouration and textural changes, making skin more prone to cancer.
What to do: Go for regular medical check-ups to detect skin cancer and other skin disorders. In case you notice any growing lumps or moles on your body, consult your doctor immediately. To avoid further damage to your skin by harsh UV rays, use sunscreen, wear protective clothing, sunglasses and hats whenever out in the sun.
Your skin will be a victim of age only if you let it. So, have a balanced diet, be physically active and stay happy to help your skin fight internal as well external stress.