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What You Need to Know About Preventing and Treating Skin Infections in the Elderly

Crystal Jo
By Crystal JoJanuary 8, 2019

Although the skin is the body’s largest organ and its first and strongest line of defense, it is not often one of the first things that someone thinks about until there is a problem.

Learn more about how to prevent and treat skin infections in the elderly, to keep skin working as the first line of defense against illness.

Our First Line of Defense: Skin

Skin makes up 16% of our total body weight and protects us from:

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  • Cold
  • Deadly infections
  • Exposure to toxins
  • Harmful sun exposure
  • Heat

But as we age, our bodies have a harder time repairing broken skin and we can become more vulnerable to infection.

Skin Infections Are More Likely in the Elderly

Skin is made up of three main parts and each of these parts changes as we age, making the elderly more prone to infection and injury.

  1. The outer layer (epidermis) contains the skin cells and pigment. This determines the color of our skin, which is impacted by genetics as well as sun exposure. That great tan that you worked on every summer is now showing up as dry, weather-beaten skin. The outer layer becomes less elastic, thinner and weaker. It might be fair to think of aging skin as a well-loved piece of clothing. The fabric becomes easier to tear, less stretchy and thinner. You treat that outfit with care because you know it is easy to damage. The same is true with skin.
  2. The middle part (dermis) contains the blood vessels, hair and oil glands, and the nerves. Our blood vessels become more fragile and can lead to easier bleeding and bruising as we age. You also produce less oil in the glands, which results in dry and itchy skin.
  3. Theinner layer is made up of a layer of fat, called the subcutaneous layer, as well as more blood vessels, hair and sweat glands. The aging process makes that layer of protective fat thinner, meaning that there is less padding. You can both become chilled quicker and overheat. You can also injure your skin more easily because the skin isn’t protected by a cushiony layer of fat underneath.

The elderly are less able to feel cold, heat, pressure and touch and may have difficulty responding. They also have a slower healing time – wound healing can take up to four times longer in seniors.

Ways to Prevent Skin Infections in the Elderly

Skin disorders are common in the elderly, up to 90% of people over the age of 65 will have a skin disorder.

The best way to prevent skin infections is to keep skin healthy and intact. Preventing cuts, falls, pressure scrapes and wounds allows your skin to do its job.

Remember to pay attention to any unusual itching, lesions or pain, and seek treatment if your senior loved one is in discomfort. Most skin infections are treatable. Skin infections can be warded off by practicing good hygiene such as proper hand washing, particularly if your loved one lives in a senior living community.

What other tips do you have for preventing skin infections in the elderly? We’d like to hear your suggestions in the comments below.

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Crystal Jo
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Crystal Jo
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