Good skin care for older adults

Aging can be a great experience. Most people want to live as long as possible and remain in good health well into their later years. But, as we age, there are generalized changes to the physical condition of our skin. It’s important to follow a basic skin-care routine to keep your skin healthy and free from irritation. Although many of the skin care tips below apply to everyone, keep reading for some special considerations when dealing with older adults and eczema-prone skin.

As our skin ages we may experience the following:

Fragile skin: Our skin tissue becomes loose and easily damaged

Loss of subcutaneous fat: With associated loss of temperature control

Dry skin: Reduced oil from sebaceous glands

Epidermis damage: Outer layer of skin thins

Dehydration: Older adults are prone to dehydration & poor nutrition affecting the condition of the skin

Impaired circulation: risk increases with age

Glandular dysfunction: Sweat glands produce less sweat

Reduced skin sensation: Impairs ability to feel touch, pressure, heat, etc.If using a steroid cream for a skin condition, it is important to check back in with the doctor every so often to ensure that it is still the best option.Eczema in older adults is a skin condition that results in dry, scaly patches of skin that can often be itchy and irritating. Luckily, once diagnosed, eczema is a skin condition that can be managed by a doctor.

Eczema-prone skin: The causes of eczema in older adults may be affected by the skin changes mentioned above but often it is also aggravated by medications, co-existing illnesses, impaired mobility/stability, and cognitive impairment. Using creams, specifically steroid-based creams, can also thin the skin over time.

  • Triggers: Eczema flare-ups can be caused by a number of triggers. Everyone’s skin reacts differently, but common triggers include: scented products, household cleaners, grass, chemicals, pet dander, dust mites, and even certain foods. If you or the person in your care have eczema-prone skin, be aware of your triggers and avoid them whenever possible.
  • Moisture: Moisturizers should be a part of your regular skin-care routine. Consider using an unscented moisturizer that doesn’t contain additives or chemicals. For added protection, use moisturizers after washing skin to help seal in moisture.
  • Home temperature: Extreme temperature fluctuations can be hard on skin. Depending on the season, an air-conditioner or humidifier can help regulate your home’s temperature and provide a comfortable environment.
  • Avoid scratching: This one can be difficult, but there are ways to soothe the itch caused by eczema. Try applying cold compresses, or using moisturizing lotions, or baths containing colloidal oatmeal to calm the skin.
  • Minimize sweat: Overheating or excessive sweating can be a cause of eczema flare-ups in some people. To combat this problem, ensure that you and the older adult in your care are wearing weather-appropriate clothing, staying out of direct sunlight, and drinking water to stay cool. It is also helpful to take a cool shower soon after a workout or excessive sweating to help limit the amount of time sweat remains on the skin.
  • Clothing: Consider wearing natural fabrics, such as cotton, as these are less irritating to your skin. Wash clothing in a mild and unscented detergent, avoid fabric softener, and always wash new clothing before wearing it to minimize skin irritation.
  • Stress: Stress can exacerbate eczema. Try doing some deep breathing to calm your mind and body. You can also check out our Stress management from head to toe.

How skin damage can occur

Eczema is a skin condition that can affect a person of any age. But, when caring for the skin of someone who is older, it is especially important to visually inspect their skin regularly to catch any new skin irritations early to prevent further damage.

Aging skin can become damaged or injured from:

  • Direct exposure to the sun
  • Extreme heat and cold
  • Wheelchair injury
  • Bumping into things
  • Transfers/re-positioning: immobility can put skin at an increased risk of developing pressure ulcers.
  • Falls
  • Jewelry of care providers (watches, rings, bracelets, etc.)
  • Removal of dressings/tape and stockings
  • Frequent bathing and poor lubrication
  • Activities of daily living (ADL) e.g. toileting, bathing, dressing, etc.
  • Incontinence can be damaging to the skin if not managed well

Preventing skin injuries

To maintain and prevent injuries to your skin the following tips are suggested:

  • Minimize bathing and avoid hot water
  • Apply hypoallergenic moisturizer after the bath
  • Avoid adhesive (sticky) products on fragile skin
  • Promote adequate nutrition and hydration.
  • Provide protection from trauma during routine care
  • Keep finger and toenails short and filed to prevent self-inflicted skin tears
  • Caregivers should avoid wearing jewelry or watches when providing care
  • Protect your skin from the sun: wear hats, long sleeves and pants
  • Protect your skin from extreme cold weather

As we age there are many changes to the physical appearance and function of our skin.  With extra care, it is possible to maintain healthy skin, regardless of age.

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