Health Info & Resources for Seniors
Years ago, you hardly noticed a little scape, scratch or bruise. Within a short while, the wound healed and before long the sore was long forgotten. Today, it seems wounds appear more often and take longer to go away. It’s not your imagination. As you grow older, you become more susceptible to wounds and they take longer to heal. A number of factors contribute to this including the effects of aging, decreased movement and disease.
As we age, skin loses its elasticity, becoming more transparent and thinner. Often, we lose some of the protective fat under the skin, leaving us more susceptible to injury. You may have known an elderly person who developed a terrible bruise from a light bump. Even grasping the arm of a frail, elderly person can cause an injury.
When we are younger our bodies have a well-coordinated response to a wound. The platelets in your blood form a clot to stop the bleeding and then a scab to protect the wound. Then immune cells help clean the wound and prevent infection. The injured tissue is then restored and rebuilt. Older adults may have fewer, more fragile blood vessels able to deliver nutrient-rich blood and new cells take longer to multiply. Poor circulation and sedentary lifestyles further diminish healing.
Diabetes, which affects one in four Americans over age 60, also slows healing. Elevated blood sugar levels, a common symptom of diabetes, narrow vessels and harden arteries. Diabetic neuropathy, a condition that causes numbness prevents individuals with diabetic from feeling changes in a wound, making it more severe.
If you have a wound that is not healing as quickly as you think it should – especially if you have not seen any change in a month – see your primary care doctor and request a referral to a wound care center. St. Luke’s University Health Network has five wound care centers including one at St. Luke’s Quakertown Hospital. Other St. Luke’s Wound Care Centers are in Allentown, Bethlehem, Quakertown, Phillipsburg (New Jersey) and Tamaqua.Because all we do is care for wounds, we are fully equipped to handle all aspects of wound care, including:
- Pre-treatment work-ups
- Conducting tests
- Providing you with supplies
- Working with Medicare or other insurers to optimize your coverage
- And as needed,
- Arranging home health services, such as those provided by St. Luke’s Home Health and Hospice
- Expediting patient appointments with specialists such as vascular surgery, general surgery and plastics
Our wound care centers treat chronic wounds that fail to follow the expected path of healing. This includes arterial, venous, diabetic, pressure, traumatic, and atypical wounds.
If appropriate, we also provide hyperbaric therapy – a treatment that enhances the body’s natural healing process by exposing the patient to 100% oxygen. Patients lie in a special chamber filled with oxygen-rich air. This treatment is particularly effective at treating radiation-related wounds.
Tips for Reducing Your Chance of Wounds
- Move. Exercise increases circulation and delivers oxygen to cells. An Ohio State University study in 2014 found that exercise also increases cortisol levels, a key hormone in regulating stress and an anti-inflammatory agent.
- Eat right. Proper nutrition enhances your body’s ability to heal. Be sure to eat a diet that includes protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. Your wound care specialist can guide you or refer you to a clinical dietitian.
- Wear protective clothing. Avoid injuries by covering arms and legs with protective clothing, particularly while outdoors.
- Always wear shoes or boots. Sores on the feet can be particularly difficult to heal. Wear shoes or boots to avoid cutting, scraping or bruising toes and feet. This is particularly important if you have diabetes.
- Reposition often. Don’t sit or lie in the same position for very long. If you are caring for someone with limited mobility, be sure to reposition them frequently.
Invest in pressure-reducing equipment as needed. Your wound care physician, doctor, or physical therapist can recommend devices that relieve pressure on areas prone to developing pressure ulcers, such as your buttocks or tailbone.
Manage your diabetes and other diseases. If you have diabetes, cardiovascular disease or another illness, follow your physician’s instructions on how to manage your condition. Take medications as prescribed.
About Steven R. Bowers, DO
Medical Director for St. Luke’s Wound Management and Hyperbaric Medicine Centers
Raised in the Lehigh Valley, Dr. Bowers graduated from Southern Lehigh High School. After attending the University of Pittsburgh and Kutztown University, he worked as a Research Specialist at the University of Pennsylvania and a Cell Culture Technician in the private sector in Philadelphia.
Dr. Bowers is currently accepting new patients.