If you suddenly see bruises on your elderly mom’s skin and she can’t tell you where they came from, don’t assume the worst. It’s actually quite normal for elderly people—especially women—to have unexplained bruises. The goal is to minimize their occurrence and treat them if they are especially severe.
How Bruises Form
When you sustain an injury, it may damage your small blood vessels beneath the skin without actually breaking the skin. The blood vessel can burst, leaking blood into the surrounding tissue. But the blood has nowhere to go, since your skin is still whole. It pools under the skin, causing discoloration and sometimes swelling.
Then the blood clotting action kicks in, and the bruise gradually heals itself. In the meantime, its colors wane from red to purplish-black, to green or yellow-brown, until the bruise disappears completely after about two weeks. The area feels tender at the beginning, but the pain fades together with the bruise.
Seniors bruise more easily because their skin is much thinner and less flexible. The blood vessels also become more fragile with age, making them more likely to burst from an injury. In addition, wounds heal more slowly as we age, so bad bruises will hang around longer.
Causes of Elderly Bruising
1. Mild Trauma
Bruises can come from some kind of blow to the body. Falling is one common way to sustain bruises. But if your parent is sure they didn’t fall, it’s equally likely the bruise came from bumping into something or knocking against a piece of furniture. Since seniors bruise much more easily, it was likely just a minor bang and they already forgot about it.
If they recently had a blood test or IV, the needle could have caused bruising as well. Whenever trauma is the cause of the bruise, or if you’re not sure where the bruise came from, apply ice and raise the area above the heart if possible.
Seniors who take medications such as blood thinners, aspirin, corticosteroids, or chemotherapy can develop bruising as a side effect. If your parent or loved one is taking one of these treatments and suddenly develops bruises, speak to their doctor about adjusting the dose. Changing the medication may also help reduce or eliminate bruising.
3. Actinic Purpura
This kind of bruising doesn’t come from impact. Actinic purpura comes from years of sun exposure. Too much sun weakens the blood vessel walls and eventually causes them to burst. The bruises this condition causes often look like large, purplish freckles. They show up clearly on aging skin, and may alarm you at first. In most cases, actinic purpura is harmless and does not need treatment. However, you should mention them at your parent’s next medical appointment so the doctor can check them out just in case.
4. Vitamin Deficiency
Deficiencies of certain vitamins and minerals can cause bruising. Among these are vitamin C, vitamin D, and folate. Speak with your loved one’s doctor about adding vitamin supplements to their diet.
5. Serious illness
Significant bruising may point to health issues such as leukemia or other blood diseases. Liver disease can also cause bruising, since it’s the liver that’s responsible for producing blood-clotting factors.
How to Prevent Elderly Bruising
You can’t prevent all bruises, but you can take some steps to lower your parent’s chances of injuring themselves.
First, make sure their surroundings are safe. If your mom is a resident in a skilled nursing facility, she’s in a safe environment with care professionals always nearby to keep a close eye on her. But if she’s at home alone, she’s at higher risk of sustaining injuries, including bruises.
Make sure your parent’s room is lit with a nightlight, so if they get out of bed at night they can avoid bumping into things. Follow fall prevention guidelines, as outlined in our blog post How To Prevent Senior Falls .