Elderly people are often quick to bruise, especially on hands and arms.
It might look unsightly, but elderly bruising hands are normally nothing to worry about.
However it is always helpful to know why elderly bruising happens and how you can help with healing.
Here’s what we’ll cover in this article:
- Elderly bruising hands is common and is usually nothing to worry about.
- Treatment for bruising is minimal – once the bruise has occurred, it really just has to heal on its own.
- Prevention is better than cure. Remaining well hydrated, eating a balanced diet and moisturising the skin can all help to minimise bruising.
Do elderly people’s hands really bruise more easily?
Yes, elderly bruising hands is a common condition. Older people do tend to bruise more easily than younger people.
Fortunately, it really isn’t anything to worry about.
It is called senile purpura, which just means: bruising in older people.
This bruising is benign, which means it isn’t a symptom of anything more serious.
Why does bruising occur in elderly?
Our hands and lower arms are used frequently, so they are exposed to more ‘trauma’ than other parts of the body.
This ‘trauma’ can be anything from shutting your fingers in a door to dropping a teaspoon on the back of your hand.
Bending a fingernail or getting a finger stuck while pulling on a shoe.
We have all experienced these minor injuries during day-to-day life.
Most of us won’t notice much in the way of bruising from them until we grow older.
What causes bruising in older people?
As we age, our skin and blood vessels become more fragile and thinner.
We also tend to lose body fat, meaning there is less of a cushion between our skin and blood vessels.
Older people also have lower levels of fluid in the body, which removes a little more of that cushioning.
Added up, these causes mean that elderly people’s skin shows a bruise easily.
Even very minor pressure can cause some bruising to bloom on the skin of the hands or arms.
For instance, being helped out of a chair might cause a bruise to form, even if it didn’t hurt the person.
Other factors that cause bruising in older people
There are other factors that may influence easy bruising in the elderly.
Nutrition and elderly bruising
Being deficient in vitamin C and/or iron can lead to much easier bruising.
Some elderly people find their diet is less varied than it once was.
Perhaps relying on ready-meals or a delivery service means that they are consuming more processed food. This is less nutrient dense than fresh whole foods.
As we age, our tastes may change and we may have a more restricted diet through choice.
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Medication and elderly bruising
A number of medications can cause increased bruising in the elderly.
Any anticoagulant medication influences how the blood clots, so may increase visible bruising showing on the skin.
Aspirin – commonly taken as a blood thinner – as well as some antibiotics, also have anticoagulant properties, and have a similar effect.
In addition, some corticosteroid medications impact elderly bruising hands. This includes medications for asthma and allergies and eczema.
Skin damage and elderly bruising hands
People with damaged skin, such as from eczema or psoriasis, might find that it bruises more easily.
Sometimes the inflamed skin is more susceptible to bruising.
The same might also apply to people who have very dry skin but no diagnosed skin condition.
Some medications to treat these conditions include steroids.
People with painful skin conditions may also take painkillers or antibiotics during flare-ups.
These medications can also exacerbate the bruising, so this could lead to a vicious cycle.
Does the bruising hurt?
The good news is that the bruising usually looks worse than it feels.
Because the skin and blood vessels in elderly people are sensitive to pressure, a bruise can appear where an impact was minimal.
Getting a squeeze on the arm from a young child might feel gentle, but this might cause a bruise to crop up a short while later.
Thankfully this shouldn’t be painful, though it may look a livid colour.
Should I go to the Doctor?
If bruising has started suddenly, or gets far worse over a short period, then it is worth seeing your GP.
There may be nothing to worry about, but having a checkup will allow the doctor to rule anything else out.
They may also check for vitamin or nutritional deficiencies.
How do you treat elderly bruising?
Unfortunately, there isn’t much treatment for elderly bruising hands or unexplained black eye in elderly.
Arnica cream has long been topically used to treat bruising, but there isn’t much scientific evidence to show that it works.
You could also try applying warm and cool compresses to the skin through a barrier such as a thin towel.
The changes in heat can stimulate the healing processes of the skin by aiding blood circulation in the damaged area.
Tips to help minimise elderly bruising
- Take extra care when helping your elderly loved one to move, for example ask them to grip onto you, rather than holding their hands or arms.
- Good nutrition from a healthy and balanced diet can help keep skin nourished.
- Try to drink around 1.5 litres of fluid a day to keep skin hydrated.
- Moisturised skin is more supple, apply daily moisturiser on the hands and forearms.
How to prevent elderly bruising hands
It’s tricky to prevent bruising if it comes about through normal day-to-day activities.
However, there are a few steps you can take to minimise it.
Remember to moisturise
Supple and well moisturised skin will bounce back from any injury or trauma faster than dry and cracked skin.
Find a moisturiser you like and try to enjoy the process of applying it. You could make it part of your self-care routine and treat it like a mini massage, if you like.
Drink water and keep hydrated
Staying well hydrated helps with all the body’s functions and the effects of dehydration are seen very quickly in the skin.
A good test for dehydration is to pinch the back of the hand. If the skin returns to normal instantly, then you are well hydrated. If it takes a second or two (or longer) then you are probably dehydrated.
To help keep the skin plump and supple, try to drink around 1.5 litres of fluid a day. This can include some tea and coffee.
Find out more about what are the symptoms of dehydration in elderly.
Nutrition and bruising in older people
Make sure you or your loved one are eating well and regularly.
The Mediterranean diet, or rheumatoid arthritis diet, with its emphasis on fresh fruit and vegetables, is excellent for all aspects of our health.
Eating oily fish and plenty of nuts and seeds will help to nourish our skin to keep it supple.
Reducing sugar intake, alcohol, red and processed meats will also help to minimise inflammation and keep your skin in tip-top condition.
Adding a multivitamin to the diet is a good way to ensure that all vitamin needs are being covered. This is very helpful for people who have limited or restricted diets.
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Take extra care
It sounds obvious, but it’s all too easy to forget to take care of our movements.
We might flail an arm while reaching for a book and knock on the bedside lamp with the back of our hand.
It’s easy to do! Being intentional with our movements will help to manage some of the small traumas we put our skin through daily.
This also applies to the people caring for the elderly.
It may be better for them to hold on to you while you support them in their activities.
Gripping onto their hands or arms might cause some bruising, even with a gentle touch.
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