Maintaining skin integrity is important as it is the body’s barrier to protect from bacteria, toxins, sunlight, etc (1). Older adults are at increased risk for impaired skin integrity as a part of the aging process.
Skin loses tone and elasticity with age, putting the elderly at increased risk for impairments. Estimations indicate that 3% of people over 65 years old in the U.S. have a wound at any given time (2).
Types of Impaired Skin Integrity
- Skin tears
- Pressure ulcers
- Surgical site
- Vascular ulcers
- Diabetic wounds
Factors Impacting Skin Integrity
- Vascular disease
Nutrition for Skin Maintenance
Adequate nutrition is important for maintaining skin integrity and healing impairments.
Eating enough to regularly fuel the body is necessary to support immune function. An optimal immune system is an important factor for maintaining skin integrity.
Wound healing requires increased energy to repair and build new cells (5). Adequate calories are needed to meet this increased demand and for protein sparing, so it can be used in the healing process.
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Some may be more beneficial to healing, such as arginine and glutamine.
There are specialized wound care protein supplements on the market containing these specific amino acids. However adequate protein intake overall is necessary for these specialty supplements to be of value.
Protein sources include beef, chicken, turkey, pork, fish, tofu, milk, cheese, eggs, yogurt, protein powders, nutritional supplements, etc.
Frequent sips of water or other fluids throughout the day, as well as with meals, can help meet hydration needs. Also consuming fluid containing foods, such as soups, jello, ice cream, and popsicles may be helpful.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant. It is involved in several cell related processes. Insufficient intake of vitamin C can lead to fragile skin and impaired healing (9).
Adequate vitamin C promotes skin healing and can improve skin hydration (10). Sources of vitamin C include citrus, kiwi, red peppers, broccoli, brussel sprouts, and strawberries.
Vitamin A is involved in several processes regarding skin cells. Its deficiency is linked to delayed healing (11), however too much can lead to toxicity.
Sources of vitamin A include apricots, sweet potato with skin, carrots, spinach, whole milk, and salmon.
Vitamin D aids in improved immunity and wound healing (12). Sources include sunlight, fortified milk, tuna fish, and egg yolks.
Zinc (Zn) is a mineral involved in the process of wound healing. Research does not show, however, improved healing with oral Zn supplementation (13). It may only be helpful for those that are deficient.
The elderly are at increased risk for impaired skin integrity and delayed healing. Adequate nutrition is necessary to maintain skin and heal impairments. Some may benefit from supplementation to prevent wounds and promote healing.