When Wounds Don’t Heal

Aging brings many challenges, though one that’s often overlooked is what happens when senior wounds don’t heal. 

While wound healing isn’t something we typically think about when we consider aging, it’s especially worth keeping an eye on for seniors. Chronic wounds, or wounds which don’t heal in a timely or predictable manner, are extremely common in an aging population.

As a result of this, and the fact that they have become such a challenge to treat medically, chronic wounds now considered by many experts to be a silent epidemic.

How to Heal a Non Healing Wound By InHealth: A Washington Hospital Channel

Why Do Elderly People Experience Delayed Wound Healing?

While the reason behind delayed wound healing in the elderly is not well understood by experts, the trend is well established.

Older patients do, in fact, experience chronic wounds at disproportionate rates in comparison with the rest of the population, but explaining exactly why is a little bit difficult. Experts have offered suggestions for future research on the subject, though current research is severely lacking. 

What Prolongs Wound Healing in Older Patients?

Still, medical professionals do acknowledge that, since wounds require effective blood flow to help a wound heal, venous blood flow and other circulation issues in older patients often make the wound healing process go a lot more slowly – sometimes to the point of creating chronic wounds.

In addition, generally-lowered immune responses in the elderly play a major role in the delay in wound healing for older adults. 

Which would be most responsible for prolonging a wound healing in the older patient?

A major barrier to wound healing for older adults is simply the amount of different health perspectives that must be considered, and the level of necessary care in order to effectively help a wound heal. Thus, effective wound care requires an interdisciplinary medical team for optimal outcomes. 

Which would be most responsible for prolonging wound healing in the older patient?

It’s difficult to nail down just one cause, but wound healing in older patients can be prolonged by a number of factors, including access to care and lifestyle habits.

While biological factors cause slowed healing as we age, certain behaviors can reinforce or compromise our immune systems. Many positive behaviors are recommended by wound care physicians as preventative of chronic wounds. 

And, of course, the most obvious way to prevent chronic wounds is to improve wound healing. The question for seniors is: What can be done to improve wound healing?

Stay Active

It has long been recommended that staying active is the best antidote against aging. Daily movement has been associated with increased longevity, as well as improved cognitive function and memory.

Exercise has been shown in multiple studies to improve mood and decrease rates of depression and anxiety. And ultimately, exercise also improves immunity.

For wound healing, exercise is important because it increases circulation. Without adequate circulation, essential nutrients cannot be supplied to the wound, compromising the healing process.

Blood circulation also allows the body to remove harmful bacteria, fight infection, and promote the generation of new healthy tissue.

When exercise is part of a daily routine, circulation is enhanced because exercise requires the movement of blood to the area of the body that is being used.

When walking, blood must be pumped into the lower leg muscles, back to the heart and then down to the lower leg muscles again. For this reason, walking reduces lower leg edema, one example of a common problem for seniors.  

Exercise also improves cardiovascular function. This means that the heart becomes stronger and more capable of pumping blood throughout the body.

When the heart rate is raised for even short periods of time, the heart must work harder to supply enough blood to the lungs and to the working muscles.

Moreover, in the case of interval training, the heart must recover quickly between intervals, which further improves heart function. For this reason, recovery heart rate has been used an accurate predictor of general heart health.

Keep Skin Healthy

Skin integrity is a huge part of wound healing. As we age, skin can become dry, lose elasticity, and the ability to heal can become compromised.

Keeping skin moist with lotion and any open wounds clean will significantly help when preventing wounds.

Skin that isn’t properly cleaned can easily lead to infected wounds, while wounds themselves must be treated accordingly in order to prevent chronic wounds.

Maintain Healthy Nutrition

Wound healing requires a consistent supply of nutrients to generate new healthy tissue. A number of nutrients are specifically related to wound healing:

  • B Vitamins – B vitamins provide the necessary energy needed for new skin growth.
  • Vitamin C – improves the production of collagen, which is essential for the generation of new tissue.
  • Vitamin A – Vitamin A stimulates the inflammatory response. Alternatively, lowered levels of vitamin A are shown to increase the risk of infection of a wound, and delay its healing. 
  • Vitamin D – Vitamin D promotes the production of cathelicidin, an antimicrobial peptide that helps prevent infection. This is why your body needs higher levels of Vitamin D to heal when you have a wound.

Foods like oranges, kale, strawberries, grapefruit, guava, kiwi, kale, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and peppers contain high levels of Vitamin C, while foods like sweet potato, cooked carrots, prunes, dried apricot, dried peaches, cantaloupe, mango, and papaya contain high levels of Vitamin A.

Vitamin D can be found in foods like fatty fish, beef liver, egg yolk, and swiss cheese, while Vitamin E can be found in foods like sunflower seeds, avocado, dark leafy greens, shellfish, raspberries, and blackberries.

Wounds that Won’t Heal in Elderly Patients

Healing wounds can be a scary issue for seniors, but with a trusted wound care team and the right lifestyle choices, patients can help prevent ongoing and chronic wounds.

Chronic wounds can significantly impact the quality of life of patients, as many seniors find it embarrassing to go out in public with a wound that may appear unsightly or become odorous. Chronic wounds also require changing dressings frequently, using pressure wraps, and frequent trips to the doctor. 

While each individual must learn to come to terms with these difficulties for the benefit of their own wounds, they can also help prevent wounds from happening or becoming chronic by staying active, eating healthy, and keeping their skin healthy.