Elderly skin concerns
Shishir Murarka, MD, is an internal medicine physician and hospitalist at Banner Estella Medical Center. His office can be reached at (623) 327-7313.
Question: My grandmother lives with my family and always seems to have a new cut or scrape. What should I know about treating wounds in the elderly?
Answer: It's a simple fact that as we age, our skin becomes thinner, sometimes exceptionally thin. As the skin thins, its elasticity, collagen and protective layers break down, making it more susceptible to injuries, such as cuts, scrapes and tears. Thin skin makes it difficult for injuries to heal because of the slow rejuvenation of skin cells.
So, even minor accidents can cause injury to the skin - a frequent occurrence for those who may not have great balance and are prone to bumping or tripping into things. As a result, caretakers must be well-versed in caring for these wounds.
Although many cuts or scrapes seem relatively harmless, it is important to treat them as soon as possible. Timely care can help prevent or limit the potential for further complications, the most critical being infection.
Always keep a first-aid kit stocked and readily available. Superficial breaks in the skin should be thoroughly cleaned, disinfected and bandaged. For wounds that are more serious or beyond your comfort level, contact a physician to determine if medical attention is necessary.
Of course, the best treatment is prevention. Make sure the home is safe from tripping hazards and dangerous corners or surfaces. Also, many elderly people need adequate assistance when moving around. A nutritious diet, limited sun exposure and the use of moisturizing bath products and lotions can all help provide some additional protection and promote healing. Tetanus shots should be current as well.
It's a good idea to attend a basic first-aid class if you don't have much experience in treating wounds. Always contact your physician with any questions or concerns.
Reviewed October 2010