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Aging: Changes in Skin

Supporting people with an intellectual disability through the “Normal” Aging Process


Aging Persons with an intellectual disability will:

  • Likely affect the daily rhythms of our homes and the community as a whole.
  • Push us to focus even more on building upon, reinforcing and developing their strengths so that their quality of life is enhanced.
  • Have frequent changes in support and residential location and their health records are often inadequate. Consequently, it may take some time to piece together an accurate picture of the individual’s health status.
  • Challenge us to find creative ways for people to continue to do the things they like to do and to continue to have a role in the home.

Other Considerations:

  • Aging takes place earlier with individuals who are intellectually disabled than the general population.
  • In the 21st century, the life expectancy has increased to 66.1 years of age.
  • Individuals who are intellectually disabled account for 3% of older adults.
  • Health needs change as they individual gets older.


Changes in skin expected as the person ages:

  • Decrease in moisture and elasticity.
  • More fragile- tears easily.
  • Decrease in subcutaneous fat.
  • Decrease in sweat glands -less ability to adjust body temperature.
  • Tactile sensation decreases- not as many nerves.
  • May bruise more easily.

Strategies for supporting people with changes in skin:

  • Use moisturizers – bath oils can make bath tub slippery.
  • As a care provider keep nails short.
  • Pat gently when helping to dry after bathing.
  • Bottom of feet may be sore, pay attention to footwear.
  • May feel cooler than others but be more at risk of sun stroke.
  • Use sun screen, hats and long sleeves.
  • Be careful with such things as hot water bottles, showers or bathtubs.
  • Increase fluid intake.
  • Frequently reposition client every two hours to prevent pressure ulcers.
  • Monitor for signs and symptoms of skin breakdown especially on bony prominences of the body such as heels of feet, elbows and coccyx.


  • Not every person will experience all of these changes.
  • Organizations concerned with a particular syndrome or condition may be helpful in providing information helpful for certain individuals.
  • Aging is a spiritual and psychological journey as well as a physical one.

Don’t Forget

  • If we believe that people can continue to grow and to share their gifts as they age we will support them to do so.

Information is compiled from the following:

  • McCracken Intervention Matrix –McCracken -College of Nursing and Health, University of Cincinnati and Lotteman Children, Inc. Covington, KY
  • A Focus on Geriatrics Sharing the Learning St Vincent Hospitals part of Providence Health Care
  • Age Changes and what to do about it Phyllis Kultgen and Peggy Hotz
  • Management Guidelines Development Disability Version 2, 2005.

Original material compiled by Jane Powell of L’Arche Ontario
Adapted with permission from

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