Effects of Aging on theIntegumentary System
All components of the integumentary system are affected by aging. The skin changes that develop with age must be considered by the therapist when plan-ning treatment for clients in an older age-group. The epidermis becomes thinner as a result of a significant decrease in the activity of the stratum germinativum, which makes older persons more prone to infection, injury, and delayed healing. The number of Langer-hans cells decreases, increasing the risk of infection. The decrease in the production of vitamin D3 results in reduction in calcium and phosphate absorption from the gut, leading to fragile bones. Melanocytes decrease in number with resultant pigment changes in the skin (e.g., liver spots or senile lentigo). The skin becomes more vulnerable to injury from sun exposure.
The dermis thins and the number of elastin fibers decreases. The ground substance tends to become de-hydrated. An elderly person’s skin is, therefore, weaker, with a tendency to wrinkle and sag. The me-chanical strength of the junction between the epider-mis and dermis diminishes, which may account for the ease with which blisters form in elderly persons. The glandular secretions decrease, resulting in dry skin that is prone to infection. The reduction in sweat production; loss of subcutaneous adipose tis-sue in many parts of the body, especially the limbs; and feeble skin circulation affects thermoregulation. As a result, elderly persons are more easily affected by changes in environmental temperature.
The formation of hair slows down in the hair folli-cles, resulting in finer hair. Reduced melanocyte activ-ity results in gray or white hair. Both sexes experience hair loss, with the onset at about age 30 in men and af-ter menopause in women. Loss of axillary hair and pu-bic hair is slower than that of scalp hair. In men, hair growth may increase in the nostrils and ears.
Nail growth is also slower as one ages. Changes in the nail components result in a dull, yellowish ap-pearance. The nails tend to thicken, especially in the toes where toenails may become curved and hooked.
Age does not seem to affect the skin’s ability to serve as a barrier to water vapor loss. The cutaneous nerves also do not significantly change with age.