Skin is the outermost part of our body. It protects us from harmful external stimuli and bacterial invasion. Proper skin care is important for our physical and mental health : skin infection in a diabetic patient can lead to the serious complication of gangrene, and itchiness, a very common problem among the elderly, can be so irritating as to affect mental health. Therefore the elderly and carers should know about proper skin care.
Keep the skin clean. Bathe daily in summer, cleaning especially areas like the armpit, the underparts and the feet. Sweaty individuals should wear loose clothing that can absorb sweat to prevent fungal infection. Do not wear nylon socks or plastic sports shoes if you are prone to fungal infection of the feet (Hong Kong foot). Wear sandals or leather shoes.
With ageing, oily secretions of the skin decrease, leading to dry skin and itchiness. Improper skin care such as scratching or using hot water for stimulation only makes it worse. If the skin becomes broken, there may be infection or inflammation.
To manage the itchiness due to dry skin, the most important is to apply moisturizing cream frequently, especially after bathing when the skin is still moist. Bathing oil can also be used but you must be careful about slipping. If you use a heater, maintain humidity in the room, choose oil-filled heaters instead of radiant heaters. Also, itchiness may be worsened by the stimulation of woolen clothes or a bad mood.
Hot water can wash away all the oily secretions, therefore the elderly should only use warm water, and avoid excessive cleansing. Mild soap or bathing gels should be used, or perhaps only applied to local areas, the rest of the body to be flushed with warm water only. Dry weather makes the itching worse. So, in winter, unless there has been sweating, the elderly does not need to bathe everyday, instead, bathe on alternate days or even every three days.
If itchiness persists despite the above measures, or if the skin appears abnormal, consult a doctor for advice e.g. sudden changes of a mole, a wound that does not heal up, abnormal growths, severe itching and peeling of skin, severe pain etc. They may means serious illness (like cancer) and hence should not be ignored.