Home Health What to Know About Elderly Bruising

What to Know About Elderly Bruising

by Paul Petersen

As people age, they experience a vast array of changes both inside and out, including skin that easily bruises. Bruises, which are also known as contusions, happen when the tiny blood vessels beneath the skin are ruptured or damaged from trauma.  Elderly bruising is a common symptom of thinning skin and fragile blood vessels. Unfortunately, bruising may happen from the gentlest incident, such as when assisting them in and out of the shower or if they slightly bump into a door handle. Although bruising can happen for a number of reasons, the most common causes for bruising in the elderly are the result of a fall, medical condition, or possibly even abuse.

Elderly People and Fragile Skin

As people age the division of skin cells slows down, which causes the skin to become thinner over time and the thinner skin tends to retain less moisture and causes loss of elasticity. These issues make it more difficult for the skin to repair itself as well as slow down the healing of wounds. Another problem is that as people age they lose subcutaneous fat, which helps to protect and cushion blood vessels, making it easier for bruising to occur, especially in the hands and arms.

What is Senile Purpura?

Senile purpura, sometimes called actinic purpura, is a form of bruising in seniors that isn’t the result of a trauma, but appears as if a serious injury has occurred. Between sun exposure and thinning skin, the blood vessels may burst from something as minor as a handshake or slight bump. When the small blood vessels burst, it causes the vessel to bleed under the skin, which causes significant marks on a senior’s fragile skin. This type of bruising doesn’t typically require any medical treatment and it may take as long as 3 weeks to a month to completely fade.

Unexplained Bruising

Bruising that cannot be explained or large amounts of bruising should not be ignored. Unexplained elderly bruising may be a warning sign of a serious, underlying medical condition or certain medications. Some common medications and medical conditions that may cause bruising include:

  • Anemia, which is often the result of a change in diet
  • Clotting disorders, such as deep vein thrombosis that is often the result of prolonged bed rest or sitting
  • Liver disease may cause bruising because blood-clotting platelets are produced by the liver, so the disease may restrict the production
  • Diabetes may cause bruising on the arms and legs
  • Medications, such as anticoagulants and blood thinners often increase the risk of bruising and many, common over-the-counter medications, such as aspirin, cortisone, and ibuprofen increase the risk of bruising on various parts of the body

Bruising and Elder Abuse

Although bruising is often the result of something minor, such as the result of bumping into something, unfortunately, in some situations, excessive and frequent bruising may be a result of elder abuse. Elder abuse is negligent, knowing, and intentional actions of a caregiver or other person that causes harm to an elderly adult. It is critical to understand and determine whether or not elderly bruising is the result of elder abuse. Some common signs of elder abuse may include:

  • Bruises that are 2 or more inches large
  • Bruises that show finger marks
  • Bruising that occurs in hidden areas of the body or in areas where they may be the result of grabbing or squeezing, such as around the wrist

Keep in mind that the majority of accidental bruising occurs on their extremities, not on the person’s head, neck, abdomen, or ribs. Also, in many situations, when bruising is the result of an accident, an elderly person may not remember how it was caused, but even those with cognitive impairment often recall bruising that occurred as a result of abusive behavior.