Skin Care and the Elderly: A Guide for Senior Caregivers
Skin care is important for people of all ages, but even more so for the elderly. Seniors are prone to skin issues due to the decrease in collagen. This loss of collagen causes skin to lose its elasticity. Skin also becomes very dry and thin, which can lead to a host of problems. Thin skin is prone to injuries, and these injuries take longer to heal. The elderly are also prone to skin issues such as scaling, itching, dryness, ulcerations and infections. Some of these issues may not seem serious, but they can quickly develop into life-threatening conditions that can lead to fatalities.
Therefore, it’s important for caregivers to understand the most common types of skin conditions and know how to prevent them.
Common Skin Conditions
Dry skin is the most common skin condition the elderly face. Dry skin – also called dermatitis – is characterized by cracked, flaky and rough skin. Dry skin is often caused by physiological changes, although genetics and the environment are also factors.
Medical conditions – and medications taken for these conditions – can cause dry skin. In addition, hot baths and showers can also dry out skin, especially if no moisturizer is applied afterward. Scrubbing too hard and using alcohol and other harsh cleansers can exacerbate dry skin.
Dry skin may seem like a minor annoyance, but it can cause a domino effect that can lead to health issues. Dry skin is itchy, which causes scratching. Too much scratching can cause wounds and bleeding. These wounds can lead to infection.
Besides dry skin, the elderly are also prone to a condition called senile purpura. You may have seen this on older people. This is characterized by purple spots on legs and arms. These spots are caused by frail blood vessels and capillaries combined with thin skin.
Ringworms, scabies and bacterial infections are also common among the elderly. They may also experience herpes zoster, shingles and viral conditions. Skin growths may also appear. These should be examined by a physician, since they can be cancerous. However, many growths are benign.
Bedsores are common among bedridden seniors. In order to prevent these ulcers, caregivers must turn patients frequently. Catheters, adult diapers and bedsheets should also be changed frequently.
Skin Care Tips
To prevent these skin conditions in your elderly family members, keep these tips in mind:
- Don’t bathe them as much. We need showers and baths less frequently as we age. A daily shower is not necessary. Instead, make sure your loved one’s face is washed daily. Aim for showers or baths several times a week. Clean him or her with a soap that’s fragrance-free, as this will be gentler on the skin. After bathing, apply moisturizer to skin.
- Don’t allow your loved one to smoke. Smoking is unhealthy in many ways. Not only does it harm your body internally, but it makes your skin look rough and leathery. This isn’t a good look for anyone. If your loved one smokes, try to get him or her to quit.
- Wear sunscreen. While it’s good to get some sunlight, too much sun without protection can lead to sunburn for anyone. Seniors are more susceptible to the sun’s rays and should wear sunscreen when outdoors. They should also cover up with clothing to keep skin from getting burnt and dry.
- Trim fingernails. Long nails can scratch skin more easily. This can lead to bleeding, wounds that fail to heal and possibly even infections. Trim your loved one’s nails often to keep them short and less likely to affect the skin.
- Stay hydrated. The current guideline is to drink eight glasses of water a day. Water is great for the body, as it flushes out toxins and refreshes the body. It also prevents skin from drying out, Make sure your loved one is consuming an adequate amount of water.
- Eat right. While drinking is important, eating the right foods is equally important for better skin. Aim for foods rich in vitamins and minerals, such as vegetables, salmon, berries, nuts and melon.
When caring for your loved one, it might be easy to overlook skin care. After all, you may already deal with a lot as a caregiver for seniors, from feeding to medications to coordinating medical care to transportation to bathing. But by following the tips above, you’ll help your loved one look and feel great, which is important for boosting one’s self-esteem.