Eight Common Skin Conditions Seen in the Older Adult.« Back to Articles
As we age, our skin changes. In elderly adults, skin conditions may become more numerous and noticeable as the skin continues to thin and lose fat, elasticity, and moisture. Skin cell turnover decreases dramatically, slowing wound healing. The immune system weakens, making skin infections more common. Age spots may become more prominent and larger, dark bruises may appear unexpectedly.
Some skin problems are mostly harmless, while others require medical attention. Older patients and carers often have questions regarding these skin changes. Here we review eight common skin conditions seen in elderly adults and some useful information.
- Easy Bruising: Aging skin is thinner and has less fat to cushion it, making it more susceptible to bruising. Blood vessels also become more fragile and easily broken. Older people who take blood thinners or painkillers such as aspirin or ibuprofen may bruise more easily. Minor bumps can result in significant bruising, but these bruises are usually harmless. However, if large bruises often appear with no explanation, your patient should see a health care practitioner to rule out underlying health problems.
- Dryness and Itching: Dry skin is common in elderly adults due to a loss of sweat and oil glands and not drinking enough liquids. Chronic health conditions such as diabetes and kidney disease can also cause dryness and itching. Skin may become cracked and painful, and scratching can lead to irritation and infection.
- Age Spots: Age spots are flat, tan, or dark brown spots that appear on skin that has been exposed to the sun over time. They are harmless but can be treated by a skincare provider if they bother you.
- Skin Tags: Skin tags are soft, spongy growths of tissue that typically appear on eyelids, neck, thighs, and skin folds such as the armpits, groin, and under the breasts. They are harmless but can be removed by a health care practitioner if they bother you.
- Skin Cancer: In old age, melanoma rates increase, and slower-growing basal cell and squamous cell cancers become more common. Older adults have a decreased ability to repair pre-cancerous cells, making age the strongest risk factor for non-melanoma skin cancers.
- Shingles: Adults who had chickenpox as children are vulnerable to shingles, with older adults being especially susceptible. Shingles start with burning, itching, or tingling in one area of the skin, followed by a painful rash. Skin infections and long-term nerve pain are possible complications. Shingles immunisations are available to help prevent this condition.
- Bed Sores: Bedridden or wheelchair-bound older adults are susceptible to bed sores or pressure ulcers. These open wounds develop in areas subject to pressure when sitting or lying down. Prevention is critical, as bed sores can be difficult to treat and may become infected.
- Skin Tears: The fragile skin of elderly adults tears more easily, especially in people who take corticosteroids, which can weaken the skin. The skin might tear when bumped or when a caregiver removes wound tape or dressing.
Practitioner Development UK (PDUK) is a leading provider of continuing professional development (CPD) courses for healthcare professionals. We offer a wide range of courses, delivered both as scheduled events and in-house.
If you are a health care professional who works with older adults, you may be interested in the A137 Dermatological conditions in the older adult course offered by Practitioner Development UK (PDUK). This course will help you to:
- Apply dermatological considerations when caring for the older adult.
- Increase your knowledge of differential diagnoses in elderly dermatology.
- Be more confident in dealing with chronic dermatological conditions in the elderly.
You can find more information and book the course online at:
Dermatological conditions in the older adult course
The skin you’re in: common skin problems in the over 50s - Saga. (2016, February). Retrieved from https://www.saga.co.uk/magazine/health-wellbeing/conditions/common-skin-problems-over-50s
6 Common Skin Conditions for People Over 70 - AARP. (2020, August). Retrieved from https://www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-2020/skin-problems-over-70.html
Skin Conditions in The Elderly - WebMD. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/elderly-skin-conditions
The Effects of Aging on Skin: Dry Skin, Loose Skin, and More - WebMD. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/beauty/cosmetic-procedures-aging-skin