Bruises, especially large ones, can look a bit alarming. They occur when tiny blood vessels under the surface of our skin break and leak small amounts of blood. Bruises usually occur after some kind of injury, perhaps a bump on the calf from a pointy coffee table corner, or a bruise on the arm after an IV is withdrawn. What causes one person to bruise badly may not cause another to bruise at all, since some of us are more prone to bruising than others. The bruise will normally change color over the curse of several days. It may begin as a dark black-blue color, then gradually fade to yellow as the body reabsorbs the blood. Eventually the spot will disappear altogether, but this may take up to several weeks.
Bruising in Seniors
As we age and our skin becomes thinner and less elastic, we become more prone to bruising. Blood vessels too, become more fragile and more likely to break with even relatively minor bumps. To complicate matters, certain medications increase the risk of bruising. Any medication designed to prevent blood clots will make bruising more likely, since bleeding will continue longer. In addition, cortisone treatments and some over-the-counter pain medications can cause easy bruising.
So is your loved one doomed to be covered in black and blue spots? Not at all. There are definitely steps that can be taken to lessen the risk of bruising. For starters, take steps to minimize falls. If your loved one tends to bump into things or falls on a regular basis, they may need some assistance getting around. A walker or cane may be just the ticket to help them navigate their home safely. If getting out of the bath or off the toilet is a concern, install grab bars in these areas for extra support. Add light-sensitive nightlights to the bedroom and bathroom; they will come on automatically at dusk. Remove loose rugs, or at least place a sticky–backed rug mat underneath them, and watch out for stray electric cords.
Next, take a good look at your loved one’s home, with an eye to minimizing bruising hazards. Encourage Mom to replace that sharp-edged nightstand with a new model with rounded corners. Keep smaller pieces of furniture at the edges of the room, where it is less likely to be in the way. If Dad just can’t let go of that coffee table he always bangs into on his way to bed, head to the baby-proofing section of your department store to purchase a set of edge and corner guards.
What if your best efforts fail and your loved one receives a nasty bruise? Encourage them to apply a cold compress to the spot to help the swelling go down. Elevating the area may also help. An occasional bruise, especially when a person knows how they received it, is not a cause for concern. If, however, you notice new, unexplained bruises, especially if they are large or in places a person doesn’t normally bruise, it would be prudent to head in for a check-up. The doctor may recommend a review of current medications, or tests to check blood clotting ability. Finally, if a bruise seems to swell abnormally or cause excessive pain, do check in with the doctor.