Part of caring for elderly loved ones is helping them with grooming and hygiene. You may have noticed that your loved one is experiencing dry skin or they may have complained to you about feeling itchy. Dry skin in seniors can be very uncomfortable and lead to other types of skin problems. In some cases, dry skin in the elderly can also be a sign of an illness.
Why Seniors Get Dry Skin
When people age, their skin changes considerably over the years. The oil glands that once functioned to keep the skin soft start to shut down, leaving it more exposed to the elements. Most seniors get dry skin in the winter, when there is less moisture in the air and heating systems blast throughout the home. Dry skin is also exacerbated in seniors when they bathe or shower frequently. Soaps and bath oils can further irritate the skin and cause it to dry out. Some medicines that seniors take can have the side effect of dry skin as well.
Common places for dry skin in seniors include the legs, arms, hands and back. When seniors feel that dry itch, they tend to scratch the spot to make it feel better. However, aging skin is also much thinner than it used to be, so it is easier for fingernails to scratch through and break the surface. Small wounds in the skin open up the elderly loved one to infections, which is very bad for the health. If the skin is overly dry, it could lead to cracking and rashes. When the cracks deepen, they could form fissures, which means that the opening has reached down to the capillaries, causing the skin to bleed.
Treatment for Dry Skin
Family caregivers, home care aides and others need to know how to minimize the chances of developing dry skin in their elderly loved ones and what to do when they are suffering from it. Above all, the best treatment for overly dry skin is moisturizers that hydrate the skin. Choose a light moisturizing lotion and apply it with light coverage one or two times per day. Avoid heavily perfumed lotions as that can aggravate already sensitive skin. Home care assistants can also set up humidifiers to keep the air moist at home, helping the elderly person combat dry skin.
When helping an elderly loved one bathe or shower, home care assistants and family caregivers should use warm water, not hot. Mild soap for sensitive skin is also recommended. When they are drying off afterward, be sure to pat dry with a towel instead of scrubbing the skin dry. Bathing too often can rub away the natural oils in the skin, drying it out faster. Many seniors choose to bathe or shower every other day to reduce the risk of dry skin.
There are plenty of ways that seniors can develop dry skin, and it can be both a nuisance and a gateway to more serious health issues. However, with a little effort and help from caregivers, elderly loved ones can follow a good skin care regimen and steer clear of the itching and flaking associated with dry skin.