I have been suggesting, lately, that the summer is a good time for the elderly to get outside for greater levels of exercise and perhaps even take up gardening as a hobby.
While I stand by these suggestions as valid ways to improve overall health, I have to put one small caveat, or consideration into the mix. As we age, we have to pay more attention to our skin and to the effects of the sun on it. Thus, if an elderly person is going to be outside, some precautions are necessary.
The aging process is not particularly kind to our skin. As the life-long battle between gravity and our body begins to favour gravity, things begin to droop. Our skin is no exception.
Dried by reductions in oil production, stretched by a loss of elasticity, or perhaps a loss of fatty tissue supporting it, and thinned by a slowing process of cell rejuvenation, our skin has a tendency to begin to resemble tissue paper more than the supple texture we had in our youth. Sure, there are cosmetic medical procedures that can be taken to lift the skin, but they are all temporary and not always as esthetically pleasing as we might wish.
One of the greatest enemies to healthy skin is excessive sun exposure, even more so when our skin has thinned and thus provides less protection from the harmful rays of the sun. It is important at any age to protect yourself from excessive sunlight, but even more important for the elderly. Sun screen, in combination with long sleeves and wide-brimmed hats, as well as good sunglasses that protect the eyes from UV rays, are essential preparations before venturing out on summer days. Even when the clouds are around, the power of the sun’s rays remain and protection is necessary.
It is also wise to wear protective clothing when working outside or in a garden. The loss of moisture and elasticity tends to make skin brittle, resulting in easily bruised or cut skin. Since the elderly tend to have somewhat compromised immune systems to begin with, exposure to the outdoor bacteria through cuts is not a great idea. A good set of gardening gloves and some firm material in the sleeves of clothing can help a great deal to reduce this concern.
Of course, good skin care requires frequent cleaning and plenty of hydration with simple lotions. It’s a good routine to gently bath problem skin areas and then moisturize them a couple of times a day, particularly before bedtime. The softer and more moisturized the skin, the less risk of cuts and tears.
Finally, a visit to a doctor once a year, to have the skin examined for any unusual growths or changes, should be part of the health routines of everyone over the age of 40.
Our skin covers our bodies, but often serves as a window to issues that are going on internally. Keeping track of changes and acting on those of concern can often short-circuit issues simmering below the skin and avoid much bigger problems later.
• Graham Hookey writes about education, parenting and eldercare. firstname.lastname@example.org