Smarter Skin Care for Seniors
Why choosing hospital-based products is an absolute must
by Dr. Elizabeth McCord, Kyle D. Hilsabeck, PharmD, and Nancy B. Ray, Ph.D.

It is no surprise that the incidence of many chronic diseases continues to steadily rise. After all, the average lifespan is increasing, and an estimated 10,000 baby boomers are turning 65 every day. Paired with skyrocketing rates of obesity, chronic diseases—such as cancer, venous disease and diabetes—account for approximately 75 percent of annual health care costs in the United States.

With the rise of chronic diseases also comes largely unavoidable chronic conditions and complications of the skin. Though these conditions and complications are often adequately addressed in hospital settings, treatment hasn’t quite translated into homecare settings. At least 1 million seniors over the age of 65 are living at home permanently, and millions more are cared for at home due to a temporary illness or injury. It is critical that proper and consistent skin care be available in the home setting to prevent readmissions into health care facilities.

Maintaining Your Skin and Your Well-Being

It is estimated at least 70 percent of seniors have at least one skin issue, yet general skin care is often overlooked. Evidence suggests that many seniors under-report skin problems, most likely because they perceive skin deterioration as an inevitable process of aging, and they may not realize that help is available through proper skin care. Maintaining the health of skin—both in hospital and home settings—is critical for a senior’s overall well-being.

As skin ages, it becomes less capable of performing its function as a barrier, and skin breakdown becomes an increasing risk with a negative impact on quality of life. Aging skin is generally more fragile, and can be associated with undesirable skin issues—including senile purpura (fragile skin bruising), xerosis (dry skin) and pruritus (itching)—that can lead to scratching, infections and serious wounds.

Through the aging process, skin also loses 20 percent of its thickness. The subcutaneous layer (located beneath the dermis) becomes thinner, resulting in a lack of cushioning and insulation, which makes seniors more vulnerable to bruising, skin tears and the development of pressure ulcers. As people age, the effectiveness of the skin’s natural antioxidant system is also diminished. Oxidative stress occurs when antioxidants and the skin’s natural defense system are overwhelmed, resulting in damage to DNA, protein and the overall cell as well as inflammation. Hospital-based skin care products containing antioxidants that activate the skin’s natural defense system can help protect skin from oxidative stress and inflammation.

Additionally, skin cleanliness is essential for skin health and important for promoting a person’s sense of well-being. It is critical, however, for seniors to avoid washing the skin too much, as this can damage older skin. Gentle skin cleansers that include essential nutrients should be used to protect and strengthen skin. Hot water and harsh soaps can damage fragile skin and result in dry skin and inflammation. In contrast, gentle cleansing lotions that include natural emollients can help moisturize skin during bathing. Mild cleansers that include a gentle antimicrobial ingredient may also be used to control odor and help protect against the risk of infections.

Impaired skin nutrition decreases skin integrity, function and wound healing capability by affecting the skin barrier and microvascular and immune systems of skin. Individuals with decreased blood circulation due to aging, diabetes, chronic venous insufficiency and/or edema typically have decreased skin nutrition, as nutrients from the blood are less capable of reaching the skin. Hospital-based skin care products containing vital small-molecule nutrients including antioxidants, amino acids and vitamins are vital for proper care and healing. By treating their skin with the correct nutrients, patients can increase skin barrier functioning, strengthen skin and also improve endothelium function and healing from wounds.

Decreasing Overall Health Care Costs

Homecare is a critical choice for seniors with acute or chronic health problems. Although hospital care is a common choice for seniors searching for thorough medical care, hospitals incur high out-of-pocket costs and may be risky for seniors who are more comfortable with their home surroundings, where they are less likely to experience disorientation, trips and falls.

In fact, one recent study demonstrated that homecare resulted in a substantially reduced rate of falling and mortality, most likely because the home provides patients with a familiar environment where they can more easily retain muscle function. In addition, seniors admitted to hospitals are more vulnerable to hospital-acquired illnesses—including skin infections, such as methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

Many studies have found patients prefer homecare. Evidence overwhelmingly indicates that homecare results in improved patient satisfaction and clinical outcomes. In many instances, it has been demonstrated that many patients admitted to emergency departments diagnosed with skin infections (cellulitis) could be cared for at home for less cost. Specifically, homecare resulted in a 19 percent savings for some patients as compared to hospital care, according to a recent study. Aside from cost savings, homecare is reported to actually decrease the period of acute illness. All in all, homecare clearly provides patients with familiarity, real cost savings and may help to prevent readmissions to other care facilities.

Improving the Transition from Hospitals to Homecare

Transitioning from care facilities to homecare settings can involve many challenges for seniors, often resulting in fragmented care and readmissions. As the demand on health care services grows, the frequency and complexity of senior health care transitions is only expected to rise. With this, efficient transitions from care facilities to the home are critical. Poorly executed transitions from the hospital to other care settings cost an estimated $12 billion to $44 billion dollars per year, and often result in poor health outcomes for patients. Not only are they costly, but poor transitions can also cause serious skin infections that can be avoided by applying the same skin care and protocols used in the hospital. Skin care products offered in the home, such as At Home, provide patients with medical-grade skin care in the comfort of their own homes.

Patient education can be one of the most effective aids in easing the transition between hospital care and homecare. With skin care playing such a major role in a patient’s transition, educating patients on proper skin care is critical. Seniors transitioning from care facilities to homecare should look to educational product booklets provided when purchasing recommended products. It is also important for caregiving professionals to provide information prior to a senior transitioning home. With proper education, patients can help to avoid skin breakdown, infections and major wounds that could result in higher health care costs and readmissions to care facilities, which can cause separate health complications and additional family stress.

Overall, homecare is a great choice for seniors looking for better health outcomes and patient satisfaction. Transitioning from care facilities to homecare is a critical time when complications including serious skin issues can easily arise. However, many patients fail to properly care for their skin when transitioning from care facilities to their homes. Patients should seek out hospital-based products that provide cleansing, moisturizing, skin nutrition and protection, as well as hospital-based skin care protocols. By making skin care a top priority and using quality skin care products and protocols, seniors will avoid skin breakdown, infections and major wounds. Furthermore, health care facilities can drastically reduce costs by eliminating the need to care for readmitted patients seeking care for their preventable skin issues.