We all know that UV rays can cause skin cancer, but overexposure to the sun can also cause other health problems, such as leathery skin, liver spots, inflammation of the cornea, cataracts and a weakened immune system. Seniors are especially at risk for skin cancer and other UV-related problems because their skin is thinner and has been exposed over the years to bodily assaults like smoking and pollution. With weak immune systems and less capacity for healing, just one sunburn can do untold damage to an elderly person.

At one point, scientists thought that most sun damage occurred before the age of 18, so older people assumed that the damage was already done and weren’t careful about limiting exposure to the sun. But research now shows that most damage is done after the age of 40 and continues as long as we live.

If your patients are able to go outside for short periods, they should be properly protected from UV rays. They should wear hats, sunglasses, long sleeve shirts and long pants. All uncovered body parts should be protected with sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher. It’s best to take them outdoors before 10 AM and after 4 PM, when the sun isn’t as strong.

For patients who are bedridden, there can be a danger from UV rays that come through the window. Most UV rays are blocked by glass, but some rays do get through and if a patient spends many hours directly under a sunlit window, this can cause problems. Patients who aren’t mobile should be placed further from any window which gets direct sunlight or a shade or curtain should be used during the hottest hours.

It’s important to be aware of signs of skin cancer and pay attention to your patients’ skin while bathing and dressing them. If you see any of the following, report to a doctor immediately: 

  • A growth with an irregular border, multiple colors or change in size
  • Pain, irritation or bleeding
  • Crusting
  • Sudden appearance of lesions

There’s nothing like a little bit of sunlight to bring good cheer and warm the body and soul. As long as the skin is protected, patients will benefit mentally and physically from getting outside and enjoying the sun.