Aging Skin Care: How to Treat Common Skin Disorders of the Elderly

As the skin is the largest organ in the human body, it's not surprising that as we age, it becomes more susceptible to disease and disorders and this is why aging skin care and proper treatment is so important. This article will address some of the most common skin disorders in the elderly, including warning signs of potential trouble.

Skin Lesions

Growths and pigment spots become more common with aging skin. Many of these skin lesions are the result of many years of sun exposure, which is why they are commonly referred to as "age spots."

Pre-Cancers

Skin cancers can also result from years of sun exposure. Pre-cancers are common in older adults and the elderly, often appearing as scaly spots known as actinic keratoses. If these scaly spots are ignored, they may become skin cancers that eventually must be removed surgically.

How to spot it: Look for unusual scaly patches.

Treatment: In the early stages, pre-cancers can be removed by freezing with liquid nitrogen, applying a chemotherapy cream, or by skin resurfacing.

Skin Cancers

Squamous cell carcinoma typically develops on the rim of the ear, the face, the lips, or the back of hands. These skin cancers can destroy normal tissue. Squamous cell cancers occasionally spread to internal organs, and if left untreated, squamous cell carcinomas can be aggressive.

The most common form of skin cancer is a basal cell carcinoma. It usually appears as a small, shiny bump, or pinpoint red bleeding area on the head, face, nose, neck or chest. It's more common in elderly fair-skinned people with blond or red hair and blue or green eyes. Untreated, these skin cancers can bleed and crust over. They grow slowly and rarely spread to other parts of the body.

How to spot it: Look out for small, shiny bumps, or red bleeding areas on the head, face, neck, chest or back of hands.

Treatment: When treated early, squamous cell and basal cell skin cancers have a 95 percent cure rate.

Malignant melanoma is a less common but more serious form of skin cancer. This skin cancer usually appears as a dark brown or black mole-like growth with irregular borders and variable colors. Men over the age of 50 are at the highest risk for melanoma, but it can affect anyone of any age. Melanoma is more likely to strike people who had severe childhood sunburns. The most frequent sites for melanoma are the upper back in both men and women, the chest and abdomen in men, and the lower legs of women. Any change in an existing mole or the rapid appearance of a new mole could be a sign of melanoma and should be examined immediately by a dermatologist. Melanoma can spread to other organs and can be fatal.

How to spot it: Inspect skin for new moles and watch out for any change in appearance of existing moles.

Treatment: The primary treatment for obvious cancers consists of visually excising the lesion, a special kind of surgery that looks under the microscope during surgery to ascertain the completeness of the excision (Moh's surgery), and/or radiation.

Other Types of Skin Growths

Several other skin growths are very common in the elderly. Collectively, they are sometimes referred to as "age spots" or "liver spots," although they have nothing to do with the liver; they are caused by the sun and usually appear on the face, hands, back and feet. They are generally harmless and should be differentiated from melanomas. Fade creams and surgical resurfacing treatments can help cosmetically.

Seborrheic Keratoses

These brownish raised spots appear to be stuck on the skin. Seborrheic keratoses is benign. These spots are very common in seniors and can be removed if desired, but it is typically not necessary.

Cherry Angiomas

Created by dilated blood vessels, cherry angiomas are red raised lesions. Most middle-aged people and the elderly have these on the trunk. These can also be removed if desired.

Other Types of Skin Disorders

In addition to the common skin growths outlined above, aging skin is also prone to skin disorders. Here are some of the most frequently seen skin disorders in the elderly.

Shingles/Herpes Zoster

Shingles is a viral infection of a nerve caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox. The virus remains dormant within the body and escalates as the active disease from time to time. The main symptoms are pain and a rash that develops along the course of a nerve. The rash is characterized by blister-like growths that are in a line following a nerve. Antiviral medication can help the symptoms and signs as well as help preventing long-term complications. Some medical professionals believe that an early anti-inflammation injection around the origin of the involved nerve is helpful. If you suspect that you or a loved one has shingles, contact a dermatologist immediately, especially if the condition appears near the eyes, as treatments are most effective if started within three days of the onset of symptoms.

Seborrheic Dermatitis

The signs of seborrheic dermatitis are redness and greasy-looking "scales" on the skin in areas of increased oiliness like the face and chest, although they can be present elsewhere. Frequent washing may be helpful, but it tends to recur. Cortisone and special treatment shampoos may be helpful

Varicose Veins

Varicose veins are enlarged veins that become twisted and swollen when blood flows back into the veins through a faulty valve, and then stagnates in the legs. This condition is seldom dangerous, although it can be uncomfortable. Most people avoid prolonged standing, wear special hose and/or keep their legs elevated. Three treatments are used for more advanced cases: sclerotherapy injections, radiofrequency or surgical therapy.

Varicose Ulcers

This backflow of blood can cause skin breakdown called varicose ulcers of the legs or ankles. This may fail to heal because of poor blood flow. The injury can develop into an ulcer or a shallow wound that may contain pus and become infected. Special dressings and careful management of the wound may speed healing.

Blocked Arteries

Another cause of ulcers on the legs is poor blood flow in the arteries. This condition is associated with medical disorders such as arteriosclerosis, hypertension, diabetes, smoking and many other causes of ulcers.

Bruising (Purpura)

Many seniors complain of black-and-blue marks or bruises, particularly on the arms and legs. Aging skin is thinner than younger skin and there is a loss of support for the small blood vessels. Bruising is sometimes caused by medications that interfere with blood clotting, or certain internal diseases. Bruising is more common on the arms and legs, but if it is present in other areas that are not traumatized, it should be evaluated.

Itching

Itching is a very common problem with aging skin. Although it is often associated with dry skin, itching also has other causes. Elderly skin appears to be more sensitive to fabric preservatives, wool, plastics, detergents, bleaches, soaps, fragrances and other irritants. Moisturizing, cortisone and Benadryl can help if the problem is arising from the skin itself, but the cause may be due to an internal disorder. If that is the case, consult your doctor to determine the best course of treatment.


Author's Note: References include Wikipedia, The American Academy of Dermatology, Web MD and the Mayo Clinic.