According to the latest U.S. Census figures, there are now more Americans aged 65 and older than at any other time in U.S. history, and that number is expected to increase rapidly over the next decade as more baby boomers turn 65.
During Older Americans Month in May, the healthcare experts at the Floyd Memorial Wound Healing Center note that the elderly are at risk for chronic wounds that will not heal.
According to the National Institutes of Health, aging skin repairs itself as much as four times slower during wound healing than younger skin. In addition to the normal aging process, other factors such as underlying medical conditions, increased falls and poor nutrition play a role.
As a normal part of aging, the outer skin layer thins and blood vessels become more fragile. This leads to bruising and bleeding under the skin. The fat layer under the skin also becomes thinner, reducing the normal padding that can protect against injury.
While no one can turn back the clock, the Floyd Memorial Wound Healing Center offers the following tips to reduce and prevent the risk of chronic wounds for those over 65:
Pay attention to your overall health: People with chronic wounds often have other underlying conditions such as diabetes, peripheral arterial disease, vascular disease or radiation injuries. As people get older, they are more likely to develop one or more of these conditions, and managing them properly helps the body heal wounds faster.
Be on the lookout: Physical changes in the skin as we age can reduce our ability to sense touch and pressure. In addition, conditions such as diabetes may cause nerve damage which can impair the sensation of feeling. Failing eyesight makes it difficult to detect changes in the skin. Inspect your skin and feet for reddened skin that gets worse over time, blisters or open sores. If you have trouble seeing, ask a family member or caregiver to help you.
Know your medications: A study of U.S. emergency rooms found that the incidence of adverse drug events increased continuously for patients over 60. Often, antibiotics or other medications will be needed to help fight infection in a wound. It is important for your medical providers to have a list of medications you are currently taking and know your allergies, if any, to certain medications.
Watch your balance: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of adults aged 65 and older fall each year. Balance disorders may be caused by aging, problems with the inner ear, medications, infections, poor blood circulation or other conditions. If you experience balance issues, see a doctor to diagnose the cause, and take extra care when standing, sitting and walking.
Eat properly: Nutritional deficiencies can lead to skin changes such as rashes. Not drinking enough water also increases the risk of skin injury.
Take care of your skin: Sebaceous glands under the skin produce less oil as you age resulting in dry and sometimes itchy skin. Use lotions and moisturizers to keep skin moist.
Guard against pressure ulcers: More commonly known as bed sores, pressure ulcers occur when an area of skin under constant pressure breaks down. Risk factors include being older, having limited mobility, having a condition that inhibits blood flow and malnourishment. Pressure ulcers typically form on skin close to bones, especially in areas around the elbows, heels, hips, ankles, shoulders, back and back of the head. Do not massage the area around a pressure ulcer since it may tear the skin and break fragile blood vessels. See your healthcare provider for instructions on how to care for the wound and for preventive measures.
Know when to seek medical treatment: Infections can delay healing and spread to other parts of the body. Warning signs include increased pain at the wound site, redness or swelling that spreads away from the wound, a foul wound odor, change in color or amount of drainage from the wound, or if you experience fever, chills, nausea or vomiting.
For more information about chronic wounds, contact the Floyd Memorial Wound Healing Center at (812) 949-7964.