Our skin is the body's largest organ, spanning a total area of about
20 square feet. As we age, our skin changes significantly. Some of the
changes–such as facial wrinkles–impact our physical appearance,
but don't pose a health threat. Other changes, however, can be both
painful and dangerous.
November is National Healthy Skin Month, so ATRIO Health Plans is working to increase awareness among older adults
about common skin conditions in the senior years, as well as steps that
can be taken to maximize skin health.
Common Skin Conditions
The skin conditions that older adults often encounter include:
Age spots–As the name implies, age spots–which also are referred to as liver
spots–are most prevalent among older adults. Age spots are brown
or grayish in color, and tend to be larger and more irregularly shaped
than freckles. The face, hands, shoulders, and arms are where age spots
are most frequently found. Fortunately, age spots are harmless.
Bed sores–There are times when seniors spend extended periods in bed due to
illness or mobility issues. When skin is pressed against a bed or chair
for a long time, bed sores–also called pressure sores–can
result. To avoid bed sores, seniors should change position every few hours,
or have someone help them change position. Gel mattresses also are recommended
to prevent and alleviate bed sores.
Bruises–Although bruises aren't categorized as a skin condition, they
certainly impact skin's appearance. Older adults are highly susceptible
to bruising because the blood vessels in their skin become extremely fragile;
so much so, that even a minor bump or scrape can produce extensive bruising.
Seniors are advised (if approved by their doctor) to avoid medications
that increase bruising risk, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories.
Removing any furniture, rugs, or other household items that increase the
possibility of falling also is recommended.
Dry, itchy skin–As we age, our oil and sweat glands decrease, resulting in dry, often itchy
skin. Dry, itchy, sometimes scaly skin seems to strike seniors particularly
on elbows, forearms, and lower legs.
Shingles–This condition affects your nerves and can cause a burning sensation, shooting
pain, tingling, and/or itching. Shingles, which most often strikes those
age 60 and older, also can be accompanied by a rash and blisters. There
is a one-time shingles vaccine that may prevent the condition. If you
are in the target age group for shingles, talk to your doctor about the vaccine.
Steps Toward Skin Health
While we can't turn back the hands of time, we can take steps to maximize
the health of aging skin, including:
Avoid hot water–While taking a hot bath or shower may feel relaxing, hot water actually
removes moisture and can leave skin dry and itchy. Opt instead for warm,
not hot water.
Moisturize–Every morning and evening you should moisturize with an unscented lotion
that contains ingredients such as mineral oil, jojoba oil, cocoa or shea
butters. It's also important to moisturize after taking a bath or shower.
Minimize sun exposure–Protecting your skin from the sun's damaging rays is a must. With that
goal in mind, be sure to: limit time spent outside between 10 a.m. and
2 p.m., when the sun’s rays are the strongest; wear sun screen and
a hat that shields your face; use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen
with an SPF of 15 or higher daily, and a water-resistant, broad spectrum
(UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher if you'll be outdoors
for an extended period.