The skin is the body’s largest organ and its essential “armor.” To maintain good health, skin needs extra attention as we age.
The skin has three layers. Working together, they act as the body’s
- shield by preventing bacteria and viruses from getting into the body and keeping body fluids from evaporating out;
- insulation by preserving body temperature through fatty padding, sweat glands, and pores;
- sensor by protecting us from harm through nerve endings that signal when things are too hot, too sharp, etc.
In the normal aging process, skin
- lightens and thins, becoming more fragile, drier, itchy, and subject to tearing;
- loses fat, which increases bruising. The absence of a fatty layer also makes it harder to maintain body temperature and affects absorption of some drugs;
- becomes less sensitive to heat/cold, pressure, and other warning signs of potential injury;
- repairs more slowly and depends more than ever on good nutrition for healing.
Daily routines are important in the care of aging skin. Help your loved one
- use moisturizers. Skin lotion helps replace missing oils and reduce itching. Moist skin also heals faster.
- stay hydrated. Ensure adequate intake of water, typically six to eight 8-oz. glasses per day. Think of this as moisturizing from the inside out.
- set up a humidifier. The heated air of wintertime often removes moisture from the air. Setting up a humidifier will also soothe airways and reduce respiratory problems common in winter.
- bathe only as necessary. Ensure bath water is warm but not too hot. Soap and water dehydrate the skin, so avoid harsh and perfumed soaps. Using bath oils is unwise because of slip-and-fall risk.
- maintain good nutrition. Protein (found in eggs, milk products, beans, poultry, meat, and fish) is particularly important to wound healing.
- avoid cuts or scrapes. Watch for sharp-edged clothing fasteners, straps, or other rough surfaces. Take care not to bruise or tear the skin when removing bandages or when using a firm grip to help someone stand.
- protect against sun exposure. During the summer, people may be used to thinking of sunscreen. But the sun can also cause problems in the winter. Use sunscreen as well as long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
Check in with a dermatologist if your loved one develops itchy, scaly, red, or flakey patches on the skin. You want to nip problems in the bud because skin that becomes cracked and bleeds is a breeding ground for infection.