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As people get older, their skin changes and becomes more susceptible to common problems. November is National Healthy Skin Month, a day to focus on the skin conditions that impact adults and how to avoid them.
Wrinkles are commonly associated with the skin change that occurs when people age. However, there are other more dangerous and painful conditions that affect older adults, including bed sores and skin cancer. Some of these are easier to avoid than others, but it's never too late to begin protecting your skin and avoiding conditions that can end up having a major impact on your well-being if they go untreated. Here are five of the most common skin ailments that affect seniors and tips for reducing your chances of developing them.
1. Dry and itchy skin
While dry skin isn't a serious problem, it can become very uncomfortable if untreated. MedicineNet.com noted that many seniors experience dry skin on the elbows, forearms and lower legs. The skin becomes rough and scaly, causing an intense itchiness. While there are many external factors that can contribute to dry skin, such as dehydration and stress, people also lose their oil and sweat glands as they age, making dry skin worse. Frequently moisturizing with lotion or ointment can help. Talk to your doctor if itchy skin continues to bother you.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost 1 million people in the U.S. experience shingles every year. Also known as herpes zoster, the condition causes painful blistering that can last anywhere from two to four weeks. You're more likely to get the disease as you grow older. Getting vaccinated is the only way that you can avoid shingles. The CDC highly recommended that adults over 60 years old get the Zostavax shot - currently the only vaccine available for shingles. Talk to your doctor before getting vaccinated.
3. Bed sores
Sometimes adults have to remain in bed for long periods of time. Whether they're recovering from surgery or experiencing a medical condition that inhibits their mobility, bed sores, or pressure sores, are a possibility. They are wounds that occur when the surface of the skin is pressed against a bed or chair for a long time, according to AgingCare.com.
To avoid bed sores, caregivers should turn the person over to a new position every few hours and massage the body to increase circulation. The mattress also makes a difference - consider a gel mattress to help alleviate bed sores. Seniors and their caregiver should make a point to check for areas of severe redness and call the doctor if they find any, as this is a sign that sores are beginning to develop.
4. Skin cancer
In 2012, 67,753 people were diagnosed with skin cancer, reported the CDC. It's never too late to begin protecting your skin from the sun's ultra violet rays. In fact, older skin is more vulnerable to sun damage, which can occur in as little as 15 minutes of exposure. Wearing protective clothing and accessories, such as hats, sunglasses and long-sleeved shirts, can drastically reduce your risk of skin cancer. Finding shade when you're in the sun for long periods of time and applying sunblock with SPF 15 or higher will also help.
Although bruises aren't a skin condition, they're a common problem in the elderly. AgingCare.com mentioned that the blood vessels in older skin can become fragile to the point that only a minor bump or scrape can cause extensive bruises. Seniors should try to avoid medications that increase vulnerability to bruising, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories. Removing clutter from living spaces and eliminating anything that could increase people's chances of falling is also important.