Updated: Dec 20, 2018
As humans age, our bodies undergo natural changes that can make bruising more common. Our skin begins to thin and retains less moisture so that it becomes dry, scaly, and wrinkled. The skin’s ability to heal itself diminishes so wounds are slower to heal. Blood vessels become more fragile, making it more common for the elderly to bruise. Besides these natural factors, there are three other main risk factors that could be causing the bruises on your elderly loved one.
In some cases, significant bruising can reveal underlying health issues. For example, leukemia and other diseases that affect the blood and platelets can cause severe bruising. Diseases of the liver can result in easy bruising as well since the liver plays a key role in the production of blood clotting factors. Because aging increases the body’s natural ability to clot, the elderly are at a higher risk for blood clots and related conditions, such as atrial fibrillation. In addition, deep vein thrombosis can be caused by prolonged sitting or bed rest, which can appear as severe bruising in the lower legs and thighs. If you notice any unusual or significant bruising on your elderly loved one, you should have them examined by a physician.
There are several medications that can contribute to elderly bruising. For example, anticoagulants help prevent clotting by thinning the blood but can cause possible bruising. Seniors who take Plavix® for heart disease and stroke may also increase their risk of bruising. Even common over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen, aspirin, antidepressants, asthma medicine, and cortisone medicine can increase the chance of bruising.
Elder abuse is knowingly or intentionally harming an elderly adult. If you notice frequent bruising or bruises like deep finger print marks (from rough handling), your elder may be experiencing abuse by a caregiver or another person. Sometimes, the elderly person may not remember or realize that they are being abused so it is important that you be observant to the signs of elder abuse and talk openly with your elderly loved one. If severe or extensive bruising occurs with no known cause, you may want to contact a physician for an evaluation.
Typically, medical treatment is not necessary for bruising because bruises tend to fade after a few days or weeks. However, you can speed up the healing process by applying a cold compress (20 minutes at a time) and elevating the bruised area above the senior’s heart within the first 24 hours of the injury. This will keep inflammation and swelling down, which in turn will reduce the size of the bruise by slowing the amount of blood leaking into the tissue. After the first 24 hours, you can apply a warm compress to the area to increase circulation and rest the bruised area to reduce pressure.
You can also take steps to prevent bruising as much as possible for your elder loved one. You can remove furniture or other obstacles to create a clear path for the senior so they can avoid bumps and falls. Help elderly loved ones sit and stand if they are likely to fall. If your elder is unstable while walking, discuss the possibility of a cane or walker with their doctor. You can also install handrails where possible for additional support. Taking such practical measures can help prevent needless bruising to your elder loved one.