With age, comes wisdom, it has been said. But advancing years bring much more to us than increased knowledge. The passage of time leaves ample evidence upon us of the path we have taken. As in all things we journey at our own pace through our ages and stages. Our skin is our road map to where we have been and perhaps; to where we are going.
As people age, their risk of developing skin-related disorders increases. Without prompt diagnosis and treatment, these ailments can not only be painful and irritating, but may also affect the health and well-being of seniors. With so many diseases -- spanning from benign to irritating to life-threatening -- affecting the elderly, a visit to a dermatologist offers everything from pain relief for minor ailments to early detection and treatment for more serious conditions.
In this country more of us are heading for our golden years. According to current U.S. Census statistics, the population is getting older, with a greater percentage of the population in the over-65 age group. This trend is expected to continue well into the 21st century. Additionally, with the population of those age 80 and over also rapidly increasing, an increased emphasis on geriatric medicine is inevitable. Geriatric dermatology is a specialty that will receive particular attention. As people age, their chances of developing skin-related disorders increase.
It happens to all of us. The structure and the function of skin change with age. In aging skin, the epidermis becomes thinner and loses its undulating rete pattern; the stratum corneum loses its ability to retain water, and cell replacement, barrier function, and wound healing decrease; the dermis becomes thinner and loses its elasticity, partly because of a decrease in the number of fibroblasts; the eccrine sweat glands shrink and secrete less sweat; and Langerhans cells decrease in number, affecting immune responsiveness. All of these changes contribute to many of the skin conditions of the elderly.
Early detection, as always, is key to successful treatment. Skin disease in the aging population is common. Evaluation and treatment are usually straightforward, and diagnostic testing is usually not necessary. An understanding of the changing structure and function of aging skin helps to address the disease processes and their treatment.