Our skin and its ability to withstand wounds, changes over time due to a number of natural processes. The skin is at increased risk for injury as you get older and it takes longer for those injuries to heal.
At birth we are born with a smooth epidermis (outer layer of skin) and plump subcutaneous tissue (lowest layer of the skin). Both thin over time as the skin’s cells are replaced more slowly.
This loss of collagen and elastin makes the skin more fragile and at greater risk of breaks and wounds.
Normal, healthy skin contains large amounts of bacteria on its surface. Chemical changes that occur as we age mean that less surface bacteria are destroyed. This increases the likelihood of infection if there is a break in the skin and bacteria enter the wound..
Other ways skin changes as we get older includes:
- The number of pigment cells (melanocytes) decrease and those remaining tend to increase in number and cluster in certain areas, forming what’s known as age or liver spots.
- Older skin has fewer sweat glands and oil glands. This can make the skin drier and more prone to conditions related to dryness, such as rough skin and itching. Keeping skin moist and supple improves the condition of skin making it more resistant to breaks in the skin that can become wounds.
- Blood vessels in older, thinner skin are more likely to break and bruise.and take longer to heal.
Likewise some chronic diseases such as diabetes and vascular disease, which are more likely to occur in the elderly, can make the healing of wounds more difficult. Some medications such as prednisone, blood thinners also have effects on the skin making it more susceptible to wounds. Good skin health across the lifespan will help the healing of wounds as they occur.