Senior Skin Care: It's Never Too Late
Research shows that there are two major factors that impact aging—those caused by the genes we inherit, and those changes caused by environmental factors, such as exposure to the sun's rays, illness or lack of personal hygiene. While little can be done to "fight" the natural aging process, there are numerous measures that can be taken to limit external factors that lead to the most prevalent skin conditions among the elderly.
Geriatricians like Barney Spivack, M.D., member of the American Geriatrics Society, advises older persons about ways to limit external factors that can lead to skin cancer, infection or debilitating skin irritation. "Older adults are at the greatest risk for developing skin cancer. It might be surprising, but just minutes of sun exposure each day over the years can cause noticeable changes to the skin," states Dr. Spivack. Freckles, age spots, spider veins on the face, rough and leathery skin, fine wrinkles, loose skin and skin cancer can all be traced to sun exposure. But Dr. Spivack warns that skin cancer, while fairly common, isn't the only skin condition that seriously impacts seniors.
Dr. Spivack notes that seniors and their caregivers should consider the following:
Shingles: The "Chicken Pox" of the Elderly. While shingles can affect anyone at any age, they are more prominent in seniors and more painful. These painful lesions resemble those of chicken pox and are in fact caused by the same virus (herpes zoster). The healing process of this condition typically lasts several weeks; however, medical attention should be sought immediately, as the anti-viral medications used to treat shingles are most effective in the early phase.
Dry Skin: An Itch you Can't Scratch. It's common for skin to become dry as it ages. Typically flaky, itchy skin can be managed with moisturizers or by using mild soaps. However, if dry skin becomes so severe that the itch is no longer soothable, it's important to seek medical assistance. Some medications commonly used among seniors may cause itchiness as a side effect, and severe flaky skin can also be a sign of a more serious problem, such as liver or kidney disease.
Skin Ulcers: A Silent Threat. Also known as bedsores or pressure ulcers, skin ulcers can be extremely painful, debilitating and can be a breeding ground for infection that can lead to serious medical problems and even death. But there are ways to prevent these sores from occurring. Typically ulcers occur when the skin is deprived of an adequate blood supply and oxygen. By maintaining a proper general nutrition and skin care regimen, wearing cotton undergarments and socks, and limiting the amount of time spent in constricting positions or with limited mobility, the chance of developing a skin ulcer can be significantly decreased.
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