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Preventing Winter Dry Skin in Elderly Patients
Posted by Dr. Joshua Fox

Preventing Winter Dry Skin in Elderly Patients

Winter is here! The weather is cold and we’re cranking up the central heating and making hot drinks to keep warm! While winter can be cozy, it creates a dry environment which contributes to loss of moisture in the skin. For the young ones, their skin has a better capability of retaining moisture and can protect against the onset of “xerosis”, which means dry skin. However, for the elderly, their skin has difficulty retaining moisture, often causing xerosis.

Xerosis, is when the skin loses moisture causing it to become dry. It is most often found on the lower legs, arms, scalp, and hands but can occur on any area of the body. The affected skin surface may appear split, cracked, and look flaky, and scaly.

The senior population is more susceptible to xerosis because they have decreased sebaceous gland activity and sweat gland activity, which are the two processes involved in bringing moisture to the skin’s surface. Additionally, health conditions in elderly patients, such as nutritional deficiency, malignancy, anti-androgen medications, and diuretic therapy, increase the likelihood of getting xerosis.

Dry skin can be uncomfortable, especially when the xerosis causes itching. This is referred to as a type of “eczema”. Eczema is a skin condition consisting of red, dry itchy patches of skin. It can lead to loss of sleep, as well as skin infections Ensuring xerosis is treated for yourself or a loved one is essential.

To improve areas with dry skin, try the following suggested tips:

  • Bathe less frequently – bathing washes away the natural oils found on the skin, so bathing less frequently will keep the oils on the skin surface
  • Bathe in lukewarm water instead of hot water – warm water has less of a drying effect than hot water
  • Avoid harsh skin cleansers – deep cleansers remove the natural oils that keep the skin moist. Fragrance-free soaps such as Dove are best.
  • Apply moisturizer – whether it’s a lotion, cream, or ointment, they all can provide moisture to the skin. The best time to apply is after bathing. For loved ones in the geriatric community, caretakers may need to help apply the moisturizer in hard-to-reach areas
  • Use air humidifiers – adding moisture to the room can help prevent dry skin from occurring

Once a dermatologist assesses the affected skin area, moisturizers may be recommended or prescribed. Topical and/or oral anti-itch medications may be prescribed. These will help in decreasing uncomfortable itching, improving the skin barrier, preventing the escape of moisture from the skin, and reducing inflammation that may have occurred. If you notice something on your skin or the skin of a loved one, or you or your loved one have itchy skin, don’t hesitate to contact your dermatologist.

To have a dermatology specialist perform an on-site consultation for a loved one in a nursing facility or assisted living facility, call 516-418-9078. More information on eldercare dermatology is here.

 

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