As the United States population ages, it is increasingly important that older adults and their caregivers are aware of skin health, ways to protect aging skin, how to treat wounds and when to seek treatment from a physician.
With aging, skin loses water content and strength, causing dryness and thinning. This is why bruising and welts happen more often with older adults. These factors, as well as certain health conditions, can create wounds that take longer to heal.
Along with skin changes, older adults face many age-linked conditions, such as chronic diabetic ulcers, peripheral vascular disease, mobility issues and more. These conditions frequently cause wound infection and ulcers, with approximately 70 percent of all pressure ulcers occurring in the older adult population. Wound care — or proper medical treatment and at-home care — can help seniors and caregivers properly care for wounds and ulcers.
Wound care is especially important for older adults with chronic diseases or risk factors such as:
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Cardiovascular diseases
- Peripheral arterial disease (PAD)
- Peripheral neurotrophy
- Corticosteroid usage
- Wheelchair bound
Seniors with COPD may experience poor wound healing due to low levels of oxygen in the blood. Oxygen is necessary for cell regeneration, controlling infection and reducing swelling of the tissue. Without an adequate oxygen supply, wounds are prone to slower healing and have a higher risk of infection.
Cardiovascular diseases such as congestive heart failure (CHF) or heart disease disrupt the flow of blood, oxygen and nutrients to the wound site, leading to delayed healing.
Seniors that have high blood pressure or diabetes have an increased chance of developing PAD. PAD narrows and blocks the blood vessels in the legs and feet, causing a decrease in blood circulation. Skin health is adversely affected by the reduced blood supply — leading to an increased risk for infection in wounds.
Older adults with type 1 and 2 diabetes are prone to wound formation and infection. With diabetes, comes the difficulty of wound healing due to impaired white blood cell functioning and high blood sugar levels. Diabetes is also associated with peripheral neurotrophy, or nerve damage. Peripheral neurotrophy reduces feeling and sensation, which may lead to unnoticed wounds and higher infection risk.
Corticosteroids are prescribed to lower inflammation in the body and treat asthma or arthritis. Side effects of corticosteroids include skin thinning and weakened immune system, which can cause skin tears and slow wound healing.
Treatment for Common Wounds
Skin changes and health conditions can make small wounds such as cuts, burns and skin tears difficult to heal. Seniors with minor wounds should monitor the affected area and seek prompt medical treatment to reduce infection risk.
Chronic diseases or risk factors may predispose older adults to ulcers. Common skin ulcers include:
- Diabetic ulcers
- Arterial ulcers
- Venous stasis ulcers
Diabetic ulcers are open sores caused by poor blood circulation, high blood sugar levels and nerve damage. Diabetic ulcers typically form in the legs and feet. Signs of a diabetic ulcer include swelling, redness, open lesions, fluid drainage or odor. Often, older adults with peripheral neurotrophy may not feel a diabetic ulcer, leading to infection.
Arterial ulcers are deep sores caused by blocked arteries and poor blood circulation to the legs and feet. Characteristics of an arterial ulcer are yellow, brown and black color as well as cold temperature.
Venous stasis ulcers occur in the legs and feet as a result of vein damage, blood clots and poor blood circulation. Redness, green or yellow discharge, fluid drainage and swelling are signs of a venous stasis ulcer.
All of these ulcers require immediate medical attention. If any of the signs listed above are experienced, call a doctor immediately. A wound care specialist will treat the wound by removing any dead tissue, draining fluid, applying an anti-bacterial dressing or proceeding with advanced treatment. An at-home care regime will also be recommended.
Older adults can prevent poor wound healing by managing health conditions, exercising regularly as well as by maintaining a healthy low-fat and high protein diet. It is important that seniors follow prescribed regimes for treating chronic diseases. Uncontrolled conditions can lead to tissue damage throughout the body.
Other tips that older adults and caregivers can use at home for wound prevention include:
- Maintain hydration by drinking 1.7 liters of water daily
- Use moisturizing lotion on your skin to prevent cracks
- Avoid using a heating pad to reduce burn risk
- Switch sides often when laying down to reduce ulcer formation
- Wear properly fitting shoes to reduce risk of foot ulcers
If you have a wound or ulcer, experts at the Wound Healing Center at MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center can provide you quality, comprehensive treatment. Our center uses multidisciplinary care options and up-to-date approaches to effectively heal wounds. To learn more, call (877) 696-3622.