The U.S. Census Bureau’s data projects that the 65 and older age group is expected to double by 2030. In addition, the 85 and older age group is the fastest growing sector of the U.S. population.
Mature skin is visually and physiologically different from young skin. It is beneficial to treat mature skin in a specialized manner because the incidence of skin problems tends to be higher in older adults than in other age groups.
Physiological changes in the skin due to natural aging increase the likelihood that older adults will experience vascular problems, benign growths and tumors, and contact dermatitis. When there is less blood circulation (ischemia) less oxygen is delivered to the skin cells. When skin cells renew slowly or are not replaced in a normal manner the skin breaks down resulting in skin damage and discomfort.
The term ischemia means a decrease in the blood supply to a bodily organ, tissue, or part caused by constriction or obstruction of the blood vessels. Ischemia affects the skin of stroke patients, the skin of people with diabetes, the skin of people with rheumatoid arthritis and contributes to pressure ulcers (bed sores).
Structure and Function Skin Changes
Aging causes changes to each of the skins three layers. The epidermis, the skin’s top or outer layer, does not recover from injury as rapidly as young skin. The outermost layer of the epidermis loses lipids (fat-like substances), making the skin drier. The dermis, the skin’s middle layer, loses collagen and elastic tissue that keep the skin plump and protected against injury. The sweat glands in the mature skin are not as efficient at producing sweat, which increases the amount of time it takes to cool off the body on a hot day.
An older adult’s skin takes two to three times as long to heal as the average adult’s skin. Older adults should monitor their skin for infections because simple cuts can turn into chronic wounds.
Skin in the lower extremities takes longer to heal (renew), people who have diabetes should perform regular foot checks to monitor for skin complications such as ulcers from developing.
Dry, Itchy Skin
Skin is naturally drier in older adults, so full body bathing isn’t typically needed as often. Those who bathe daily should avoid using very hot water or spend a long time in a hot shower or bath. Older adults should use mild soap, or a non-soap type cleanser, and use a therapeutic skin moisturizer immediately after bathing.
Medications Affect Both the Skin . . . and Treatment Options
At least 85 percent of all mature patients are taking some sort of medication. The administration of medications can induce dry skin or increase the intensity of dry skin.