Now that we’re in the throes of summer, many older adults enjoy spending more time outdoors. The health benefits of getting outside are numerous, whether hiking, swimming, picnicking, or working in the garden.
However, as beneficial as the sun can be to our mental and physical well-being, it can also be damaging to older people’s skin when they don’t take precautions.
As a family caregiver, it’s important to understand why your older loved one is especially vulnerable to sun damage and how to protect them while enjoying the outdoors.
What happens to our skin as we get older?
According to the National Institute of Aging, our skin goes through many changes during our lifetime. As we enter our vintage years, we might notice that our skin has become thinner, lost its elasticity, and is no longer as plump or smooth as before.
In some cases, veins and bones can be seen more easily, and we take longer to heal from bruises, scratches, and cuts.
Our skin also becomes more sensitive to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Thinner skin allows UV rays to penetrate more deeply, hampering our body’s ability to protect us from sun damage. Smoking and pollution can also make us more vulnerable to harm from the sun’s rays. People with fair skin that freckles easily are the most susceptible to the effects of UV rays, but people of all skin colours need to be mindful of their sun exposure when outdoors.
Excessive damage from the sun increases the risk of developing adverse health conditions such as skin cancer. The Canadian Skin Cancer Foundation reports that 1 in 6 Canadians are diagnosed with skin cancer. This alarming statistic should concern sun worshippers of all ages. However, skin cancer develops over time, and since older people have lived longer, they’ve had the most exposure to the UV rays from the sun.
Fortunately, skin diseases are preventable with a few simple steps to help your older loved ones enjoy a healthy, safe summer outdoors.
How to protect an older person’s skin from sun damage
Many dermatologists recommend that sunscreen be worn every day. Here are some general guidelines for using sunscreen:
- Make sure the SPF is at least 30 and that it blocks both UVA and UVB rays or says “broad spectrum” on the label
- Use water-resistant sunscreen
- Apply sunscreen to the entire body 30 minutes before going outside
- Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours, or right after coming out of the water or if sweating heavily
- Use one ounce of sunscreen each time it’s applied
Wear protective clothing outdoors
Cover up with loose-fitting, long-sleeved cotton or denim shirts and pants. Darker colours will provide more protection from the sun than lighter ones.
Wear a wide-brimmed hat
A hat with at least a 3-inch brim will help protect the scalp, ears, eyes, forehead, nose, and neck from harmful UV rays. Tightly woven hats are much more effective than those that have a loose fit.
Eyes are at risk from overexposure to the sun as well. Check the label for sunglasses that offer 99 – 100 percent UV protection, and stick to those.
Avoid the sun during peak hours
The sun’s UV rays are most intense between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Avoiding direct sunlight during these times can help protect skin from harm.
Stay in the shade
Your loved one can still get fresh air and enjoy the outdoors while staying in the shade to avoid direct sunlight. However, be sure the person still applies sunscreen and wears protective clothing.
Be mindful of the sun’s reflection
The risk of damage from the sun doesn’t just come from above. The sun’s rays can reflect off of sand, snow, cement, and water at any time of the year. Taking precautions with clothing, sunscreen, and time in the shade will help lower the risk.
Avoid deliberate tanning
Even with regular sunscreen use, there’s a risk of sun damage just by lying in the sun for hours to get a tan. Sunlamps and tanning beds can also cause damage. Avoiding deliberate tanning altogether will help protect the skin against harm.
Ensure they stay hydrated
Muscle mass (which helps store water in the body) and kidney function tend to decline with age, so it’s especially important that older adults stay hydrated when in the sun. If your loved one doesn’t want to drink plain water, offer them flavoured water or diluted fruit juice.
Catch signs of skin cancer early on
Sun damage is the primary cause of skin cancer. Fortunately, skin cancer can be cured if found and treated before it can spread to other parts of the body.
There are three types of skin cancer. Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are two types, often found on the parts of the body most often exposed to the sun, such as the head, face, neck, hands, and arms, but can appear anywhere on the skin. These types of skin cancer grow relatively slowly and rarely spread beyond the skin.
Melanoma is the third type of skin cancer. It’s rarer than the other types but much more dangerous as it can spread to other parts of the body.
Skin cancer is rarely painful, so people don’t often know they have it. Check your loved one’s skin at least once per month for changes such as a new growth, a sore that doesn’t heal, or a bleeding mole. If unsure, be sure to get them to their family doctor or dermatologist for a complete examination.
Quality in-home elder care services in Etobicoke, Mississauga, and Brampton
CareHop specializes in providing safe, quality eldercare services when you need a helping hand. Our goal is to bring peace of mind to families while protecting their loved one’s health and well-being, whether indoors or outdoors, especially when under the sun!
We provide professional in-home nursing care, PSW services, and Alzheimer’s disease and dementia care that focuses on your loved one’s needs and helps them have a great day every day.
Contact us today for a free, no-obligation discussion to discover how we can help you.