“They’re benign keratoses.” The dermatologist leaned back on her stool. “You probably have so many of them because of the immunosuppressive drugs you have to take.”
Scanning the file, she added, “And they’re pretty common in your age group.”
While she didn’t say it, benign keratoses are rough, scaly skin patches that can appear all over the body. They’re common skin problems of the elderly or those who at least qualify as senior citizens.
What the data say
According to Medscape Today, a survey of more than 20,000 Americans between 65 and 75 indicated that nearly 40 percent of them had at least one significant skin disease. A second project showed that 66 percent of non-institutionalized subjects aged 50 to 91 had complaints related to their skin. Among those in their 80s, the figure jumped to 83 percent.
Skin problems that strike the elderly are divided into two groups. Many health care providers consider the first group largely cosmetic issues. The others are more serious.
Problems affecting appearance
Facial movement lines. WebMD says they’re also called laugh lines and worry lines. As skin starts losing elasticity in the 40s and 50s, they’re more visible. In most senior citizens, they’re prominent on the forehead and around the mouth, eyes, upper cheeks and temples. In addition to various cosmetic wrinkle creams available, the drug tretinoin (Renova) can soften them.
Dry skin. Dry skin that flakes and sometimes itches is a common skin problem among the elderly. It’s usually due to the loss of oil glands during the aging process. However, it can also be a sign of diabetes, kidney problems or liver disease. Over-the-counter lotions and moisturizers sometimes bring relief. While frequent bathing can actually aggravate the skin, using a humidifier helps.
Age spots. They’re brown patches that usually show up on parts of the body like the face, hands and forearms. These areas are the ones that have typically been exposed to the sun over the years.
Skin problems that threaten health
Bedsores. Also known as pressure ulcers, they develop after lying in bed or sitting in a chair for extended periods. Seniors with diabetes are at elevated risk due to poor circulation. Re-positioning the body frequently can help.
Skin cancer. WebMD reports that a million Americans will develop skin cancer by the time they turn 65. The most common types among the elderly are basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas. Both are directly related to UV radiation during sun exposure. So is melanoma. Surgery is the typical treatment for these cancers.
Pruritus. Patients with this condition complain of significant itching. According to Medscape Today, their skin becomes inflamed and can develop fissures. Common causes are illnesses such as renal failure, diabetes and thyroid problems. Various medications provide relief.
Venous ulcers. They’re usually associated with leg problems in senior citizens. Doctors treat them with medications and surgery. These ulcers are linked to venous insufficiency, which requires medical intervention.
Pressure ulcers. Half the patients with this complaint are older than 70. Malnutrition, circulatory problems, smoking and long-term immobilization are all potential culprits. Providing adequate wound care along with supporting mattresses and pillows is essential.
Bullous pehphigoid. This is the most common blistering disorder in elderly patients, usually occurring in the 60s and 70s. Large blisters develop on the thighs, groin abdomen and limbs. Infection might occur. For mild cases, doctors prescribe topical applications of corticosteroids. However, systemic treatment with steroids, immunosuppressants and tetracycline is normally the choice for difficult outbreaks.
Herpes zoster. For individuals who aren’t immunosuppressed, the chance of contracting the herpes zoster virus increases with age. The outbreak is the result of a reactivation of the virus, resulting in pain or a rash, or both. In elderly patients, the legions might take longer to heal and are more likely to scar. The major concern for seniors is developing neuralgia, which may last for long periods. Depending on the specific case, health care providers prescribe various antiviral medications and corticosteroids.
In addition to taking precautions against exposure to the sun, seniors should make a point to be examined regularly by a dermatologist for signs of skin problems that strike the elderly.
Medscape Today site