Elderly people often have very fragile skin which is easily injured. Healing may be slow, but, paradoxically, scars are often imperceptible because scar tissue is poorly formed in older people.
Leg ulcers frequently occur in older people with poor circulation, varicose veins, who smoke or who are diabetic. Ulcers can take a long time to heal, but the new biosynthetic dressings such as Duoderm aid healing and allow people to resume normal activities during the healing process.
Shingles is caused by the chicken pox virus and is painful and debilitating in older people. When chicken pox is contracted as a child, the virus continues to live in the spinal cord and is kept under control by the immune system. When the immune system deteriorates with age, the virus is able to re-emerge and produce shingles.
Acyclovir (Zovirax) is now used to treat shingles in the early stages. It makes the attack of shingles less severe and decreases the amount and severity of pain after the shingles episode.
The risk of skin cancer increases as people get older. This is related mainly to cumulative sun exposure, but the deterioration of the immune system over time is a contributing factor. Skin cancers are often ignored in elderly people and so are treated far too late. If skin cancers are diagnosed early, treatment is very simple and is well tolerated by older people. The lesions are removed under local anesthetic in day procedure centers.
Although the skin cancer survival rate is generally improving, this has not been the case in elderly patients. This is probably because older people tend to neglect skin cancers until they become painful, bleed, ulcerate or become obvious to all their relatives. People, especially men, over the age of sixty need to be educated about skin cancer in the same way as all other age groups.