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Elderly Skin Bruising: Causes and Prevention

10 minute readLast updated September 14, 2023
fact checkedon September 14, 2023
Written by Amanda Lundberg, RN, family medicine expert
Medically reviewed by Allison Lennartz, RN
More info

Seniors experience physical changes as they age. Aging skin becomes more sensitive and bruises easily, which leads to increased pain. Bruises, also called contusions, occur when trauma damages or ruptures tiny blood vessels beneath the skin. In most cases, elderly skin bruising is the result of an injury, a fall, or a collision. Some types of elderly skin bruising are harmless, but others can indicate a more serious problem. Here, we’ll discuss the different types of bruising that may occur in seniors, so you’ll know whether your loved one is experiencing normal skin changes or needs medical assistance.

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Why aging skin bruises easily

Bruising in elderly individuals is primarily caused by the skin’s reduced resilience and thickness due to natural aging. As we age, skin cells don’t reproduce as quickly as before, resulting in thinner layers of skin. The aging process, along with the effects of sun exposure and genetic factors, leaves the skin more vulnerable to bruising.

Elderly skin also struggles to maintain adequate moisture levels, causing a loss of elasticity. The skin’s ability to mend itself gradually decreases, making wounds heal slower. Additionally, the cushioning effect provided by the fat layer diminishes as we age, leaving blood vessels more susceptible to damage.

Common types of elderly skin bruising

Familiarity with the most common types of skin bruising in seniors can offer comfort and prepare you to handle these situations successfully. Here are several key categories of bruising and their causes.

Senile purpura (actinic purpura)

A common type of skin bruising in seniors, senile purpura is caused by a reduction in connective tissue, loss of fat to support the skin structure, and thinning of the skin. Extended sun exposure can make the blood vessels under the skin prone to rupture from minor impacts such as a handshake or a slight bump. This leads to bleeding under the skin, primarily on the arms and hands, leaving visible marks that take about three weeks to fade.

While it doesn’t typically require treatment, senile purpura can cause psychological distress. If this is the case, it could be helpful to reassure your loved one that this is a normal part of aging, or to suggest a discussion with their doctor.

Bruising from routine procedures or daily assistance

Seniors who rely on help for activities of daily living (ADLs) often experience more bruising, especially on the arms and legs. Even careful handling during bathing, dressing, or shifting positions can lead to bruising on fragile elderly skin.

Bruising from medical procedures

Intravenous (IV) procedures or injections can cause minor blood vessel damage and bruising. Brief ice compression applied post-procedure can help minimize the risk.

Bruising from immobilization

Prolonged inactivity can cause skin deterioration and bruising, similar to bedsores, along with skin tears, also called shearing. Regular, gentle repositioning of bedridden seniors or seniors who use wheelchairs can help prevent these issues.

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Causes of elderly skin bruising

There are numerous factors that can increase the susceptibility of seniors to bruising. Knowing these causes can provide caregivers with vital information to manage and prevent excessive bruising in their loved ones.

Here’s a list of the common causes that can contribute to bruising in the elderly:

  • Falls and accidents. One of the most common causes of bruises in seniors is due to accidental falls. Aging can affect balance and mobility, making older adults more prone to falls, which lead to bruising.
  • Frail skin. As people age, their skin becomes thinner and less flexible, making it more susceptible to damage and bruising.
  • Medications. Certain drugs, including blood thinners, corticosteroids, and over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen and aspirin, can increase the likelihood of bruising.
  • Clotting disorders. Conditions that affect the blood’s ability to clot, such as deep vein thrombosis or hemophilia, can lead to increased bruising.
  • Nutrient deficiencies.Lack of certain nutrients like vitamin C or iron can weaken blood vessels and enhance the propensity to bruise.
  • Chronic diseases. Diseases like diabetes, liver disease, or kidney disorders can alter the blood’s composition and clotting mechanism, leading to easier bruising.
  • Physical assistance. Older adults requiring help with daily activities can often experience bruising due to the physical contact necessary during assistance, even when the utmost care is taken.
  • Medical procedures. Invasive procedures, such as injections or IV insertions, can damage blood vessels, causing localized bruising.
  • Prolonged immobility. Similar to bedsores, bruising can occur when pressure is applied to the skin for prolonged periods due to immobilization, which can lead to skin tissue breakdown.
  • Excessive sun exposure. Long-term exposure to the sun can weaken blood vessels and lead to bruising, particularly in the form of senile purpura.

How to prevent skin bruising in seniors

While completely preventing bruising in elderly individuals can be challenging, adopting certain precautions suggested by experts can significantly reduce the risk.

Dr. Aarthi Anand, a geriatrician and family medicine practitioner based in Los Angeles, California, shares a set of recommendations that could decrease common bruising causes in older adults:

1. Optimize home layout

Ensure clear, unobstructed pathways in your loved one’s home. By removing furniture or other obstacles, you can minimize the risk of everyday bumps and knocks that could lead to bruises.

2. Fall prevention measures

Implement measures to reduce the chances of falls. This could involve the use of mobility aids like canes and walkers or introducing home modifications such as installing grab bars in bathrooms and other high-risk areas. Ensuring proper lighting and minimizing the use of loose rugs can also enhance safety at home.

3. Consultation about diet and supplements

Schedule a conversation with a health care provider to discuss whether a vitamin deficiency could be contributing to increased bruising. Certain vitamins, like vitamin C and vitamin K, play a significant role in maintaining capillary and skin health. Your loved one’s doctor might recommend dietary changes to promote senior nutrition, with the addition of specific supplements to strengthen skin resilience. Certain creams and moisturizers can also help to fortify the skin.

4. Sun protection

Encourage your loved one to adopt sun-protective measures. Extended exposure to the sun can weaken the skin over time and make it more susceptible to bruising. Seniors should wear sun-protective clothing, wide-brimmed hats, and use sunscreen with high SPF when venturing outdoors. Seek shady areas during peak sunlight hours.

5. Regular check-ups

Regular medical check-ups can help monitor any underlying health conditions that might contribute to easy bruising. Routine blood tests can help detect anemia or clotting disorders, and appropriate management can reduce associated bruising.

6. Review medication

Regular reviews with their health care provider are necessary if your loved one is on medication. Some drugs, like anticoagulants or corticosteroids, can increase the risk of bruising. Their doctor might adjust dosages or suggest alternatives as needed.

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Signs of accidental vs. intentional bruising in seniors

In certain situations, bruising in the elderly might be an indicator of abuse. The National Center on Elder Abuse defines elder abuse as “a deliberate or negligent act committed by a caregiver or another individual that poses a substantial threat of harm to a vulnerable older adult.”Although increased bruising is generally not indicative of abuse — given the tendency for aging skin to bruise — stay vigilant and maintain open communication with your aging relative.

Recognizing the difference between accidental and intentional bruising in seniors can help identify possible elder abuse. Consider these key distinctions between accidental and intentional bruising.

Accidental bruising

  • Accidental bruising primarily occurs on the limbs, making up 90% of such cases, and rarely appears on the neck, torso, or head.
  • Seniors may not remember the cause of an accidental bruise.

Intentional bruising

  • Many seniors, even those with cognitive impairment or dementia, can remember instances of abusive bruising.
  • Bruises inflicted intentionally can be large, distinctive, and often resemble the marks of fingers. In most abuse cases, adults will have bruises that measure 2 inches or larger.

Always lend an ear to your loved one. Discuss any visible bruises in a calm, private setting. Keep in mind that the source of bruising could be unexpected. Elderly individuals, particularly those with dementia, may undergo significant behavioral changes, leading to self-inflicted bruising or bruising from a non-violent partner displaying newly developed aggressive tendencies.

When to see a professional for elderly skin bruising

Geriatric health care providers who frequently encounter elderly bruising cases may be better equipped to notice signs of elder abuse. If you’re uncertain, consider scheduling a consultation with your loved one’s physician.

Ultimately, a transition to assisted living or engaging in-home care can be an effective way to minimize elderly skin bruising. These options bring consistent health monitoring, dedicated professional care tailored to a senior’s needs, and safety measures to minimize falls and injuries. Additionally, care providers can closely supervise medication management and nutritional needs to curb factors contributing to bruising.

If you’re considering these alternatives for your loved one, we encourage you to connect with a Senior Living Advisor. Their role is to guide you through this process, matching your loved one’s unique requirements and lifestyle with the ideal care options.


Meet the Author
Amanda Lundberg, RN, family medicine expert

Amanda Lundberg, RN, has over 10 years of experience in clinical settings, working extensively with seniors and focusing on wellness and preventative care.

Reviewed by

Allison Lennartz, RN

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