Why Older People Bruise So Easily

brusingIf you were to visit an elderly person and noticed lots of bruising on his body your first thought might be he was a victim of abuse. Of course, that does occur and if you ever suspect elderly abuse is taking place, report it to the authorities ASAP; however, many older people have bruises and have done nothing to cause them. They haven’t fallen and nothing has fallen on them and they haven’t been in an accident.

R.M. (female): I guess I do bruise more easily because I frequently collide with things that I didn’t use to run into, like walls and doors and big pieces of furniture. My vision is not impaired nor do I drink. I seem to have terminal vertigo.

This writer’s elderly parents often sported the most lurid, grotesque bruises, primarily on their arms. When asked what had happened they would shrug and say ‘Nothing’ or ‘I barely bumped my arm against the table.’ Their brutally bruised skin looked like it hurt a lot but they said it didn’t.

B.N., 72 (male): Bruising and brittle bones seem to be another curse of us old people.

Aging and Skin

As we age, our bodies change and become more susceptible to injury. Our skin becomes thinner, less elastic and more fragile. As we age, blood vessels become delicate and bleeding under the skin (senile purpura), which is bruising, takes place easily.

A bruise appears when blood vessels situated under the skin erupt or break because of a bump or injury. When a blood vessel breaks, blood leaks under the skin and that is when a bruise appears.

L.C., 72 (male): I’ve got it bad but not nearly as bad as some. My skin is extreme thin and fragile. The slightest bump results in a bruise and all too often a major skin tear or peeling occurs. I’m running about a $10 a day Band-Aid habit. I’m better in the winter when I usually wear a long sleeved shirt. A couple of years ago, I purchased a pair of elastic sleeves to wear on my forearms while working during the summer. I can’t report on their worth because they didn’t come with any reminder alarm to put them on before getting out of the recliner.

Older people no longer have the protective subcutaneous fat layer (the inner layer of skin under the dermis) younger people have, which increases their risk of bruising significantly. When an older person bumps into a piece of furniture he is likely to end up with a huge bruise whereas the same bump would barely faze the skin of a younger person.

P.M., 68 (female): Part of the gift of getting to get old. Doesn’t bother me. They’re just there.

Older people tend to get dehydrated and this leads to an enhanced risk of injuries to the skin, which becomes dry and flimsy, easily torn. When a person isn’t eating a balanced diet this can result in skin lesions and rashes.

Bruising can be a signal something is wrong, including illness of the liver or blood clotting issues. If an individual has uncharacteristically low levels of functioning platelets, which are the mechanisms of blood making it clot following an injury, this can lead to excessive bleeding, as can issues with the proteins assisting blood in clothing. Your physician can check your blood platelet levels and test to see if your blood is clotting as it should.

Medications are sometimes the culprit

M.S., 63 (male): I bruise easily due to the Coumidan I take, which is a blood thinner.

If you are taking anti-platelet agents, anticoagulant meds or aspirin this lessens the blood’s ability to clot and bleeding from damage to a capillary takes longer to stop. This allows blood to leak out resulting in a bruise. Ginkgo and fish oil also increase the risk of bruising because of their blood-thinning consequence. Those using or taking topical or systemic corticosteroids bruise easier because this medicine makes skin thinner.

J.D. (female): I not only bruise easily but it doesn’t take much to break my skin open because it’s so thin!

If excessive bruising is a problem for you discuss this with your physician. Do not stop taking medications you believe are causing the bruising before talking to your doctor.
Remove the clutter – throw rugs and other objects – that you may trip over. Falling should be avoided at all costs by everyone but especially for older people who can experience devastating results from a fall.

Once you have a bruise there’s nothing you can do about it. Just wait it out.

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About This Blogger

Cindi Pearce

Cindi Pearce has been writing professionally since the days of manual typewriters. Armed with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Ohio University, Cindi is especially interested in women’s health concerns. She teaches yoga, is an amateur belly dancer, loves mowing her five acres of land with her beloved zero turn mower, has three grown children, one granddaughter and five large dogs. Cindi has managed to stay married to the same man for 35 years.

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