Every year nearly 5 million people are treated for skin cancer; it is the most common form of cancer diagnosed in the United States and most skin cancers occur in the elderly population. While we are all at risk, older adults are some of the most vulnerable to acute sun damage and acquired conditions from consistent exposure. Aging, lifelong exposure and genetics play a role in thinning the skin thus increasing risk. Additionally, the use medications such as steroids can also weaken the skin. Even exposure at casual outdoor events can increase the risk of sun damage over time, and a few simple sun protection tips can help prevent heat-related illness and sun-related injury.
The sun can damage the human body in two main ways: intermittent exposure, with acute conditions such as heatstroke, sunburn and melanoma; and chronic sun exposure, causing conditions like basal cell carcinoma and vision impairment. It is never too late to protect our skin from the sun and maintain these best practices regardless of age.
Best Practices for Senior Sun Protection
Seniors are especially vulnerable to many sun-related medical issues. Consistent sun protection is essential to prevent both types of sun damage, so consider the following tips:
- Your best defense is to use sunscreen with a high SPF rating. The SPF rating on a bottle of sunscreen tells you how well it protects against the sun’s rays. Read the directions carefully—not every sunscreen will work the same. Some require more frequent reapplication than others and no sunscreen is completely “water resistant,” regardless of what the bottle may claim. Plan to reapply your sunscreen every two hours, don’t forget your hands and feet and re-apply after spending any amount of time in the water.
- Remember to hydrate. Many people spend more time dehydrated than they realize. Be sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day and especially before spending any extended time outdoors.
- Wear appropriate attire. In warm, sunny weather, try to wear loose-fitting and comfortable clothes that allow your skin to breathe. Consider wearing a wide-brimmed hat to shade your scalp, face, neck and ears from the sun.
- A high-quality pair of sunglasses will shield your eyes from harmful UV rays that can damage your vision.
- Limit direct exposure to the sun, especially during 10 am and 4 pm when UV rays are the strongest. Plan outdoor activities for early morning or late afternoon.
- Avoid intentional tanning. There’s no such thing as a safe tan, whether you’re inside or outside. It’s a myth that indoor tanning is a safer alternative to sun tanning. Tanning beds, tanning booths, and sunlamps expose you to intense UV radiation, which increases your risk of skin cancer and skin damage.
- Know your own skin and watch for changes. Skin cancer is easy to treat when caught early. Watch for moles, bumps or scaly spots that change in size, texture, color or shape. Schedule an annual skin exam and talk to your doctor if you notice any of these changes.
- Understand that advanced age comes with higher risk of skin cancer. Almost half of all Americans who reach the age of 65 will develop skin cancer at least once at some point in their lifetimes. Other factors like gender and ethnicity also influence skin cancer risk.
It is vital for any older adult to keep these tips in mind before spending any time outdoors. Consistency and caution can help prevent serious sun-related injuries and illnesses. We strive to provide seniors with helpful resources so they can lead fulfilling, independent lives.
Arista Home Care Solutions offers a full range of senior care services, so contact us today if you have questions about in-home care or our other services.