In this guide, we will discuss the importance of geriatric skin exams, how they are performed, and best practices for an effective evaluation. In addition, we will also discuss a few common skin conditions that the elderly face and how they can manage them. The skin is the largest organ of our body, and hence its care is essential. This is particularly true for the elderly. As we age, our skin goes through changes; it becomes thinner, drier, and loses its elasticity. In the case of senior citizens, their skin gets injured or bruised easily and heals more slowly. Hence, they are more at risk of developing skin infections and diseases.
Aging adults are prone to a wide range of skin problems, from mild dryness and itching to severe conditions like ulcerations and melanoma. A severe skin infection or a wound that refuses to heal can lead to severe health consequences for the elderly, including death.
To prevent this, aging adults need routine skin exams that can help identify, diagnose, and address any potential skin issues they may have at an early stage.
The Importance of Geriatric Skin Exams
Our skin serves as a barrier against harsh threats from the external environment, like infections and diseases. As we grow older, our skin requires special care because it is more prone to damage and disease. Some changes that the elderly skin undergoes may include:
Reduced Collagen Production: Collagen is an essential protein that is responsible for our skin’s structure, strength, and elasticity. With age, our ability to produce collagen decreases by 1% to 1.5% each year. This results in the formation of fine lines and wrinkles and increasingly thin skin.
Decline in Oil Production: The sebaceous glands help produce oil that keeps the skin moisturized and supple. However, as we age, the sebaceous glands start producing less oil, making our skin dry. This results in cracked and itchy skin as well as dermatitis, making it easier for bacteria to invade and start an infection.
Decreased Skin Cell Turnover: Skin repairs itself by multiplying skin cells in the layers of the epidermis. However, with age, the rate of skin cell turnover increases from 20 days to over 30 days. Since there are fewer new cells, your skin will become thin and papery. In addition, it also leads to an accumulation of dead skin cells and clogged pores.
All of these skin-related changes make the elderly more susceptible to skin infections, conditions, and diseases, like eczema, infections, and skin cancer. As such, it is important that aging adults get regular geriatric skin exams to find and address any potential skin issues and get treatment for them before they have a chance to progress.
Understanding The Geriatric Skin Exam Procedure
A routine full-body geriatric skin exam takes about 5 to 10 minutes to complete. It is a non-invasive visual examination performed by a patient’s primary care physician or dermatologist and results in improved prognosis in elderly patients with early detection of diseases like skin cancer.
The exam includes the following steps:
Medical History: The physician or dermatologist will ask the patient about their medical history, including any previous or existing skin conditions or diseases.
Visual Inspection: The healthcare professional will perform a visual examination of the patient’s skin from head to toe, looking for signs of disease like moles, rashes, lesions, or discolored skin.
Skin Palpation During Exam: The doctor may use fingers to press your skin to look for any lumps beneath the skin or any other abnormal signs that are not visible to the naked eye.
Biopsy for Suspicious Lesions: If your doctor finds anything suspicious, like a rash, lesion, or mole, they may recommend a biopsy. This will include taking a small sample of your skin for further testing. Keep in mind that just because your healthcare professional has recommended a biopsy does not necessarily mean you have a disease.
Tips for Effective Geriatric Skin Evaluation
Age-related skin changes mean older adults are at an increased risk of the breakdown of the skin and need to be supported to ensure good skin health. For healthcare professionals, it is important to follow best practices for effective geriatric skin evaluation: The use of adequate lighting for skin exams: Make sure that the room where the skin examination is performed has adequate lighting so that any abnormalities become clearly visible.
Proper positioning for skin exam: The patient should be positioned in a way that allows the physician to visually check their skin from every angle. The patient may be asked to stand up straight, change their position, or move a body part.
Perform a thorough examination: It is essential that the healthcare professional perform a thorough examination of the patient’s skin, including checking the scalp, and nails, in between the toes and the soles of the feet.
Record keeping for skin exams: The healthcare professional should record the skin exam’s results and mention if any abnormalities were found. This will help them monitor any changes in the patient’s skin over time.
Common Skin Conditions in Older Adults
Since adult skin becomes thin and dry, it is prone to various skin conditions. Some common ones are given below:
Skin Cancer in Older Adults: Skin cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in the US. In older adults, the most common types of skin cancers include melanoma (the most serious type of skin cancer), basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma. Routine skin exams can help detect the presence of skin cancer in its early stage when it has the best prognosis.
Skin Infections in Older Adults: Because of their weakened immune system and skin health, older adults are more susceptible to bacteria, fungal, and parasitic infections, like ringworm and scabies. It is important for the elderly to get a check-up often to reduce the chances of these diseases spreading.
Viral Skin Disorder in Older Adults: Elderly adults are also more susceptible to viral skin infections like herpes zoster and shingles.
Senile Purpura: This condition manifests as purplish spots on the limbs due to thin skin and the frail capillaries and blood vessels lying beneath the skin.
Stasis Dermatitis: This condition results in dry, scaly, and itchy skin and is more common in elderly women than men.
Exfoliative Dermatitis: This is a severe type of dermatitis, which results in scaling and peeling skin. This condition is of particular concern to the elderly since the excessive shedding and flaking of skin can lead to open lesions, leading to infection.
Non-cancerous Skin Growths in Older Adults: Older adults are also more susceptible to non-cancerous, benign skin growths or neoplasms. A common example is seborrheic keratosis, also known as skin barnacles.
Preventive Measures for Skin Health in Older Adults
Although there is no surefire way to prevent skin health disorders in older adults, there are a few preventative measures adults can take to reduce the chances of skin conditions. These include:
- Avoiding hot baths or showering frequently
- Using mild soap and applying moisturizer to the skin after a bath
- Quit smoking or use of alcohol
- Keep drinking water throughout the day to stay hydrated
- Using sunscreen to prevent sun damage, which can lead to carcinoma
- Avoid hot and dry places like the sauna
- Change absorbent products, like adult diapers and catheters, frequently
- Use a humidifier during the winter season and in dry climates
- Turn bed-ridden elderly frequently to prevent bed sores and ulcers
Schedule a Geriatric Skin Appointment at SunCoast Skin Solutions
Are you looking for a qualified geriatric skin healthcare professional in Florida? Suncoast Skin Solutions Dermatology offices are located in Tampa in Hillsborough; St. Pete in Pinellas County; Daytona Beach, Sarasota, Lutz, Brandon, Winter Haven, Clearwater, Ocala, Punta Gorda, Largo, Hudson, Riverview, Leesburg, Brooksville, and Seminole in Florida. Contact us at 1-844-786-3376 or click here to schedule a geriatric skin exam appointment with our healthcare professional today.