Four Things Seniors Need to Know About Scleroderma

Know the Symptoms of Scleroderma in the Elderly

Photo by Sami Keinänen -(cc)

What is Scleroderma?

Scleroderma is a hardening of the skin and tissue that may range from mild, localized cases to systemic cases that affect major organs. Symptoms may vary depending on the severity of the condition and which parts of the body are involved. They may include:

  • Hard, tight, or shiny patches of skin
  • Raynaud’s phenomenon–numbness, pain, or a change of color in the fingers or toes which occur in response to cold temperatures or emotional distress.
  • Heartburn (acid reflux) associated with the occurrence of scleroderma in the internal organs
  • Organ dysfunction

There are two broad categories of scleroderma: localized and systemic. The extent of symptoms will depend on the type of scleroderma the person has been diagnosed with.

Localized Scleroderma–Localized scleroderma occurs in only a few places on the person’s skin or muscles. This type of scleroderma rarely affects the function of internal organs.

Systemic Scleroderma–Systemic scleroderma can affect the skin, tissue, and internal organs including the heart, lungs, and digestive tract. When systemic scleroderma affects the organs, it causes fibrous tissue to become hard, reducing the function of the organ.

Who is At Risk for Scleroderma?

Scleroderma most often affects people between the ages of 25 and 55, although it is not uncommon for the condition to develop in children and the elderly as well. Localized scleroderma occurs more commonly in children, while systemic scleroderma more often affects adults. Studies have not indicated that the condition is inherited, although a person may have a slightly higher risk of contracting the condition if he or she has a family history of autoimmune disorders. Scleroderma is more common in females than in males.

Because the disease often presents the same symptoms as other types of autoimmune disorders, it may be difficult to diagnose. Elderly people should talk to their doctors if they notice shiny or hard patches of skin developing on their faces, hands, arms, or legs, especially if this hardening occurs along with increased heartburn or digestive trouble.

How is Scleroderma Treated?

Unfortunately, scleroderma cannot be cured, and the condition itself–the hardening of skin–cannot be prevented. Instead, treatment programs usually focus on helping the person manage pain, increase organ function, and maintain mobility. Treatment options may include:

  • Medication–Medication may be needed to dilate blood vessels that have hardened, treat acid reflux, relieve pain associated with the condition, or prevent infections.
  • Physical Therapy–Physical therapy can help patients manage pain associated with the condition. It may also help patients maintain their mobility and continue to perform daily tasks.
  • Surgery–In extremely severe cases, surgery may be necessary to address the problems caused by scleroderma.

Helping Seniors Cope With Scleroderma

Any chronic illness presents symptoms that may eventually begin to affect daily function. When seniors develop scleroderma, they may find it more difficult to perform routine tasks, maintain personal hygiene, or walk without assistance. An in-home caregiver can assist with all of these needs, giving family members the opportunity to help their elderly loved ones remain at home.

It’s also important to remember that scleroderma, like other chronic illnesses, can cause emotional trauma in addition to physical discomfort. As daily tasks become more difficult, seniors may experience a sense of sadness and loss, and may also experience depression. If you notice signs of depression such as loss of appetite, increased fatigue, weight gain or loss, or a loss of interest in activities that were previously enjoyed, talk to your doctor. In addition, it may help to find a scleroderma support group that your elderly loved one can become involved in. Meeting and talking with other people who have scleroderma may help your loved one feel less intimidated by the disease and may also help him or her find ways to cope with changes.

 

Originally posted 2015-06-23 10:00:34.