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Protecting Elderly People’s Skin During the Winter

As we age, our skin becomes thinner and more fragile. It's a common occurrence due to the natural aging process, sun exposure over time and even genetics. For elderly persons, the harsh conditions of winter can make that already delicate skin more vulnerable to injury.

For some, dry skin can be caused by health problems (diabetes or kidney disease) or by medications. On the flip side, dry skin can be also symptomatic of a larger health issue that should be examined by a healthcare professional.

Why Skin Becomes so Fragile

As we age, our skin loses fat and becomes thinner. We lose elasticity due to less collagen and less elastin. Our bodies no longer produce as many new cells as it did when we were younger. Thinner skin also means veins and sometimes even bones are more visible. This is from loss of the fat cells underneath the skin and loss of supporting connective tissue.

Thin skin is more susceptible to damage and can tear quite easily. It can take much longer for this to heal on someone with older skin and may also have a weakened immune system.

How Winter Weather Makes it Worse

Winter weather can cause already delicate skin to become even more susceptible to damage. There are several reasons for this, and you will quickly see how inter-related they all are.

  • Lower Humidity: less humidity, while good for your hairdo, means there is less water vapor in the air, so there is less hydration in the air for our skin to absorb.

  • Indoor Heating: hot, heated air is just plain drier. In the winter, we rely on that hot air to warm our homes, cars and offices. But that continued exposure to dry air means our skin will actually thicken because the dead layer of skin cells isn't shed as quickly. Slower renewal of those new skin cells means dry, thick skin can crack and cause discomfort.

  • Thicker Skin: our skin thickens in the winter not only because of exposure to hot air. Our bodies naturally react to cold temperatures by causing the skin to become thicker in order to protect and insulate our internal organs. Naturally thickened skin plus the drying effects of indoor heating is a recipe for cracked, painful skin.

  • Lower Oil Production: the sebaceous glands are in a kind of winter hibernation – producing less oil to hydrate the skin and maintain a healthy epidermal barrier. Sebaceous gland production in elderly people is already reduced, so in winter time they are even more at a disadvantage.

How to Protect the Skin in Winter

There are some simple steps we can all follow to help protect our skin during winter. These steps are especially important for the elderly population that already have more delicate skin.

  • Hydrate! Drinking lots of fluids (especially water!) is not relegated just to the hot summer months. Keeping your body hydrated in the winter is just as important for keeping the skin hydrated.

  • Dial back the shower or bath temperature. Just like hot air, hot water can be very drying on your skin and can even strip away essential oils from your skin. A hot bath sounds amazing on a cold winter day, but keep the temperature more mild to protect your skin.

  • Use mild soaps and detergents.

  • Moisturize! Drugstore shelves are stocked full of creams, ointments and moisturizers designed specifically to combat the effects of winter weather. Find one that is compatible with your skin and use it. A lot!

  • Wear long sleeves. For elderly people with fragile skin, their skin can tear very easily. Wearing long sleeves and long pants will give their skin another layer of protection.

  • Use a humidifier to put moisture back into the air.

Keep an Eye on Skin Conditions

If you think you or a loved one have abnormal skin dryness or damage not linked to winter weather, make an appointment to have it checked out. Dry skin can be itchy and uncomfortable, but if you suspect there is something more than just winter weather at play, see your healthcare professional immediately.

Learn more about Heritage Health: Therapy & Senior Care by visiting our website. There are Heritage Health locations throughout the state of Illinois who have professional, trained caregiving staff that are trained in recognizing skin conditions in elderly residents and providing the appropriate care.

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Friday, November 22, 2019

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Heritage Operations Group is proud to provide the senior population in Illinois with rehabilitative therapy services, skilled nursing care, specialized Alzheimer’s and dementia care, assisted and supportive living, independent living and pharmacy services.


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