Summer Skin Protection for Seniors
There are obvious cosmetic benefits to taking good care of our skin. More importantly, good skincare plays a big role in our overall health, especially for seniors. Because of the natural changes that occur in skin as we age, the summer season can leave seniors even more vulnerable to its harmful effects. Chief among them are the impacts of being outdoors - the sun, the heat, and the environment. Caregivers can easily help their senior loved ones enjoy the great outdoors and the many fun activities that go along with it by being aware of potential risks and taking some practical yet effective precautions.
Our skin has many important functions. It serves to protect us from the environment, helps us control our body temperature, fluid and electrolyte balance, and through its nerve receptors, allows us to feel sensations like touch, pain, and pressure.
Over time, skin changes occur due to genetic makeup, nutrition, environmental and other factors like smoking, but the greatest single factor is sun exposure. With aging, the outermost layer of our skin thins and the number of cells that contain pigment decrease. The skin's strength and elasticity also decreases, blood vessels in the middle layer become fragile, and the subcutaneous fat layer that provides padding and insulation reduces. Age also changes our glands. They produce less oil as we age making it more difficult to keep skin moist, and sweat glands produce less sweat making it harder to keep cool.
Wrinkles and sagging skin are among the most visible signs of growing older, but there are other common effects of age-related deterioration as well. Aging skin appears more pale and translucent, is more fragile and tears easily. Skin that has been exposed to the sun frequently and consistently produces a leathery, weather-beaten appearance and large pigmented spots called age spots, liver spots or lentigos, may also appear in sun-exposed areas. Older people bruise easily and may bleed under the skin, a condition known as senile purpura. The dwindling fat layer leaves senior skin at risk of injury and reduces his or her ability to maintain body temperature. The lack of natural insulation can cause hypothermia in air conditioning. Because seniors perspire less, it's harder for them to keep cool and increases their risk for becoming overheated or developing heat stroke.
More than 90% of all older people have some type of skin disorder, too. Common difficulties include those caused by conditions such as blood vessel diseases like arteriosclerosis, diabetes, heart disease, liver disease, nutritional deficiencies, obesity, reactions to medications, and allergies to plants, or other substances to name a few. The most serious diseases directly related to sun exposure are skin cancers such as basal cell, squamous cell carcinoma, and the deadliest, melanoma which is much more likely to spread to other parts of the body when left untreated.
While the effects of aging can't be reversed, maintaining proper care means having healthy skin and more importantly, healthy senior people. Here is some helpful advice on how to care for aging skin:
- Opt to shower or bathe every other day to avoid dry skin. Take a sponge bath on alternate days, cleansing gently with moisturizing soap or detergent-free cleansers that do not need to be rinsed. Such cleansers do the job of removing dirt and natural oils but don't impact the natural acid balance of mature skin.
- Apply moisturizer on a daily basis. Advanced skincare products that nourish the skin from the outside and deliver amino acids, vitamins, antioxidants and ingredients that are gentle and soothing make skin stronger and more resilient.
- Stay out of direct sunlight as much as possible. To protect your senior's skin from harmful UV rays, the American Cancer Society uses a catch phrase that can help your senior remember some of the key steps to protect him or herself when going out in the sun - "Slip! Slop! Slap! And Wrap!" Meaning, "Slip on a shirt. Slop on Sunscreen. Slap on a hat. And Wrap on sunglasses to protect the eyes and sensitive skin around them."
- Good nutrition and adequate fluids are especially important for seniors in the hot summer months. Dehydration increases the risk of skin injury.
- Take care to avoid injuries that can cut or tear fragile skin or caustic substances that can disrupt the skin's protective barrier. Cover small wounds with band aids made for sensitive skin so as not to cause added injury when removing after wounds have healed.
- Remember the special needs of seniors with common diseases like diabetes. Diabetics are more prone to bacterial and fungal infections and itchy skin. Protecting the skin of your senior loved one, especially on extremities, is essential.
- Avoid alcohol-based astringents, strong bacterial soaps and products that are harsh and damaging for older skin. Hand-sanitizers can be especially drying and using a hand moisturizer afterwards can be important.
Cook-outs, trips to the beach, a day at the pool, walks in the park, fishing at the lake, and other outdoor activities are all part of summertime traditions that everyone enjoys, especially seniors. Most involve the potential to soak up the sun. Think ahead and anticipate your senior loved ones' needs to protect his or her skin beforehand to assure that summer fun is worry-free.
'Aging Changes in Skin,' from Minaker KL. Common clinical sequelae of aging, published on MedlinePlus (medline.com)
'Skin Care Benefits Overall Health For Seniors," published by ARAcontent on Princeton Online, (princetononline.com)
'Sun Safety: Melanoma,' published by ARAcontent, Princeton Online, (princetononline.com)
'Skin Cancer Prevention and Early Detection,' published by the American Cancer Society online, (americancancersociety.com)