What is Psoriasis?
Psoriasis is an inflammatory skin condition caused by an abnormal autoimmune response. It’s characterized by thick, scaly patches of skin that occur when the body generates new skin cells too quickly.
Roughly 2 to 3 percent of the population, or over 8 million Americans, have psoriasis. The condition can appear at any age, but peak onset periods occur between the ages of 20 and 30 and again between 50 and 60 years old.
In honor of Psoriasis Awareness Month this August, now is a great time to review how to identify and treat this condition in seniors. Psoriasis can affect your loved one’s quality of life and even lead to seemingly unrelated health conditions. By catching the warning signs and beginning age-appropriate treatment, you can help prevent flare-ups.
While the direct cause of psoriasis is unknown, it results from an overactive immune system and commonly includes a genetic component. This means your risk is higher if an immediate family member has psoriasis.
Many external triggers can cause psoriasis symptoms to flare up. These include:
- Cold, dry weather
- Sunburn, bug bites, lacerations, and other skin injuries or infections
- Smoking and heavy alcohol consumption
- Some medications
- Vitamin D deficiency
Everyone with psoriasis has different triggers, so it’s important to identify them on an individual basis. If you care for a senior with psoriasis, you may find the following resources helpful for reducing exposure to potential psoriasis triggers:
- 5 Ways to Manage Stress in Seniors
- 5 Senior Winter Safety Tips
- Summer Safety Tips for the Elderly
- Tips for Leading a Heart-Healthy Lifestyle
- Medication Management Tips for Seniors
- Why Good Nutrition is Important for Your Aging Loved One
Symptoms of Psoriasis
This skin condition has three levels of severity:
- Mild psoriasis covers less than 3 percent of the body.
- Moderate psoriasis covers 3 to 10 percent of the body.
- Severe psoriasis covers more than 10 percent of the body.
The appearance, location, and severity of psoriasis vary. One person might experience a few localized areas of dandruff-like scaling, while another might suffer from vast flare-ups covering a large portion of their body. Most types of psoriasis go through cycles, flaring up for a few weeks or months and then going dormant for a while or even entering complete remission.
Psoriasis most often appears on the knees, elbows, lower back, or scalp. Face psoriasis also develops in about half of people with this skin condition. The most common psoriasis symptoms include:
- Red patches of skin with thick, silvery scales
- Dryness and cracking, sometimes enough to bleed
- Itching, burning, or soreness
- Thick, pitted, or ridged nails
Psoriasis can affect more than just the skin. If left untreated, it can lead to a range of health complications and increase the risk of developing certain diseases, including:
- Psoriatic arthritis
- Obesity, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes
- Cardiovascular, kidney, and Parkinson’s disease
- Celiac disease, multiple sclerosis, and inflammatory bowel illnesses
- Low self-esteem, depression, and withdrawal from social life
Seek a medical evaluation and guidance from your doctor about how to treat psoriasis in seniors. Then, keep the following treatment options in mind.
Psoriasis is a chronic condition that may last a lifetime once it sets in. Although psoriasis is not curable, many professional and at-home treatment options are available. Consider that psoriasis treatment for seniors may differ slightly from treating psoriasis in younger populations. For instance, you may need to lower your medication dose, change medications, or try an entirely new type of treatment to see results.
Topical Treatments for Psoriasis
The first approach is often to apply over-the-counter or prescription-strength creams and ointments. Options for older adults include:
- Corticosteroids such as cortisone and hydrocortisone
- Vitamin D analogs
For topical treatment to be effective, a senior must:
- Be able to comfortably reach and apply the medication
- Know how much, how often, and where to apply the medication
- Spend the necessary time using the medication as prescribed
Psoriasis Light Therapy
Moderate to severe psoriasis may benefit from light therapy. Exposing the skin to artificial and natural UV light can slow skin cell turnover and reduce inflammation. Treatment may involve taking light-sensitivity medication and visiting a medical center about twice a week for a few months.
Oral or Injected Psoriasis Medications
If psoriasis doesn’t respond to other treatments, the doctor may prescribe pills or injectable medication. The safest options for people over age 65 include:
- Some biologics, including etanercept, adalimumab, infliximab, and ustekinumab
Note: Cyclosporine should be used with great caution in older adults because it can cause kidney damage.
Home Remedies for Psoriasis
In addition to taking medication as prescribed, seniors may find relief from flare-ups with psoriasis home treatment. Here’s what to try:
- Relieve dryness and itching with dermatologist-approved cleansers and moisturizers.
- Soak the affected skin in warm water with Epsom salt or dissolved colloidal oatmeal.
- Eat a heart-healthy, low-inflammatory diet.
Psoriasis vs. Eczema
People often confuse psoriasis and eczema. After all, they are both inflammatory skin diseases that cause scaling and itching, but they look quite different to the trained eye.
- Psoriasis has well-defined scaling lesions, while eczema is characterized by less-defined reddish or brownish patches of dry skin.
- Psoriasis may appear on the elbows and knees, while eczema more often develops in fold areas, such as the crooks of the elbows and knees.
- Psoriasis is mildly itchy, but eczema can cause extreme itchiness.
Learn More About Psoriasis in Seniors
If you still have questions and concerns, BrightStar Care can help. We offer a full range of home care services that can include watching for signs of psoriasis flare-ups, reminding seniors to apply medication, and arranging transportation to medical appointments. Please contact us at 866-618-7827 for more on how our compassionate care team can help your loved one manage psoriasis.