Allegan General Hospital offers tips for dealing with chronic wounds

During Older Americans Month in May, the health care experts at Allegan General Hospital’s Wound Healing Center, a member of the Healogics network, note specialists agree the elderly are at risk for wounds that will not heal.

According to Marcus Blass, a general surgeon and the medical director of the center, aging skin repairs itself at a slower pace than younger skin. Wound healing can be as much as four times slower in the elderly. In addition to the normal aging process, other factors such as underlying medical conditions, increased falls and poor nutrition play a role.

 “Our goal at the Wound Healing Center is to fully assess our patients looking for the reason the body isn’t able to heal on its own,” said Blass. “By looking deeper, we are often able to heal the wound and address the underlying cause of delayed healing. Many times a non-healing wound is a signal there is something else occurring in the body.”

The center offers the following tips to reduce and prevent the risk of chronic wounds for those over 65:

Pay attention to your overall health: People with chronic wounds often have other underlying conditions such as diabetes, peripheral arterial disease, vascular disease or radiation injuries. Managing these conditions properly helps the body heal wounds faster.

Be on the lookout: Physical changes in the skin from aging can reduce the ability to sense touch and pressure. In addition, conditions such as diabetes may cause nerve damage which can impair sensation of feeling and failing eyesight can make it difficult to detect changes in the skin.  Inspect your skin and feet for reddened skin that gets worse over time, blisters or open sores.  If you have trouble seeing, ask a family member or caregiver to help you.

Know your medications: A study of U.S. emergency rooms found the incidence of adverse drug events increased continuously for patients over 60. Often antibiotics or other medications will be needed to treat wounds against infection. It is important for medical providers to have a list of what medicines the patient is currently taking and any to which they are allergic.

Watch your balance: Balance disorders may be caused by aging, problems with the inner ear, medications, infections, poor blood circulation or other conditions.  See a doctor to diagnose the cause and take extra care when standing, sitting and walking.

Eat properly: Nutritional deficiencies can lead to skin changes such as rashes and not drinking enough water also increases the risk of skin injury.

Take care of your skin: Sebaceous glands under the skin produce less oil as you age resulting in dry and sometimes itchy skin.  Use lotions and moisturizers to keep skin moist and more ready to heal.

Guard against pressure ulcers: More commonly known as bed sores, pressure ulcers occur when an area of skin under constant pressure breaks down. Risk factors include being older, having limited mobility, having a condition that inhibits blood flow and malnourishment. Pres­sure ulcers typically form on skin close to bones such as in areas around the elbows, heels, hips, ankles, shoulders, back and back of the head. Do not massage the area around a pressure ulcer since it can tear the skin and break fragile blood vessels. See a health care provider for instructions on how to care for the wound and for preventive measures such as the proper kind of pillows and cushions that may alleviate pressure.

Know when to seek medical treatment: Infections can delay healing and spread to other parts of the body. Warning signs include increased pain at the wound site, redness or swelling spreading away from the wound, a foul wound odor, change in color or amount of drainage from the wound or if you experience fever, chills, nausea or vomiting.

For more information about chronic wounds, contact the Wound Healing Center at (269) 686-4325.

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