- Five facts everyone should know about skin integrity
- Why is it important to consider skin integrity when working with older people in hospital
- What is skin integrity?
- How can I help older people maintain skin integrity while in hospital?
- How can I recognise a potential problem with skin integrity?
- What can I do if I recognise that someone has a potential problem with skin integrity?
- What are the care or management principles I should follow if an older person has a wound, skin tear, pressure ulcer or other skin problem?
- What can patients, families or carers do to maintain skin integrity in hospital and at home?
- What should I consider when planning discharge to help an older person maintain skin integrity at home?
- Case study
Ageing changes the ability of the skin to perform its important functions.
Older people's skin is more vulnerable to damage and stress, and slower to heal.Any breakdown in skin integrity makes the body susceptible to infection.
Having integrity means being whole, intact and undamaged.When skin has integrity, it performs these very important functions:
- It shields the body's vital metabolic functions from harmful temperatures, chemicals, radiation and pathogens.
- It assists in the maintenance of fluid and electrolyte balance and optimal inner body temperature.
- It conveys pleasant and unpleasant sensations.
- It communicates our individuality by its texture, colour and characteristics.
Skin integrity is something we usually take for granted, until it is damaged.
- Becomes thinner
- Loses elasticity and moisture
- Develops folds and wrinkles
- Loses its cushioning layer of subcutaneous fat
- Is more easily injured - prone to tearing and bruising
- Is slower to heal  .
On admission to hospitalScreen for the risk of skin damage.
To assess pressure injury risk, use a validated tool:
While in hospital and during transfers between wards, departments or hospitalsActively prevent injury
Take these important actions everyday:Assess skin integrity. This is easily done while assisting patients with personal hygiene. Documenting observations will help identify any changes.
Carefully avoid any collision with environmental hazards such as bed rails, lifting machine parts and wheelchair footplates.
Never use aggressive tapes or adhesives.
Note: Removal and replacement of anti-embolic stockings to visualise the heels and toes properly is required.
Document your observations of skin condition to assist other clinicians in identifying any changes.
Skin integrity is at significant risk for patients with any of the following characteristics:
Losing protective layers of skin due to ageing.
Underweight or overweight.
Having difficulties washing or drying any part of their skin (for example, contractures, folds beneath abdominal aprons or hard to reach areas between toes).
Presenting with, or at risk of, developing problems with:
Blood circulation (for example, diabetes).
Quality of circulating blood (for example, anaemia).
Having radiation therapy.Fasting for theatre.
Document and report what has been done to effectively communicate the patient's care plan to others.
What are the care or management principles I should follow if an older person has a wound, skin tear, pressure ulcer or other skin problem?
- The goals for the wound.
- Who will be there.
- What resources and supplies do they have?
- Then plan.
At nightFor nearly all wounds it should be possible to choose a dressing regime that does not require overnight changes and supports sleep and comfort throughout the night.
If the patient is at risk of pressure ulcers, recommend pressure-reducing mattresses and overnight repositioning.
Perform a daily skin inspection to pick up any problems and address them immediately.
Use moisturisers regularly to protect dry skin.
Use skin tear protection strategies and equipment, and provide advice about obtaining these.
Avoid pressure and teach about the positioning and availability of pressure offloading equipment (refer to occupational therapy, podiatry, physiotherapy or specialist local suppliers as appropriate).
Ask questions of their general practitioner or practice nurses.Educate patients about pressure risk in hospitals.
What should I consider when planning discharge to help an older person maintain skin integrity at home?If a patient is ready to go home with a continued need for wound dressings, involve the patient and family or carers early in discussions and decisions about the type of dressing regime that will work for them.
Involve support services such as home nursing services as appropriate, and communicate the person-centred care plan to ongoing care providers. Refer as soon as possible.Discuss the need for any further referrals with patients and carers.
Further informationRefer to a podiatrist if foot care or footwear advice is needed.
Scenario 1Mr Jackson was admitted to an acute surgical ward for pre-operative bowel preparation three days prior to a colonoscopy, scheduled to diagnose the cause of chronic constipation with recent bleeding and anaemia. A previous colonoscopy was unsuccessful due to inadequate bowel preparation at home.
In hospital, Mr Jackson was quiet and uncomplaining. The nurses wheeled him into the toilet on a commode chair and helped him shower and dress. The colonoscopy failed again due to inadequate preparation, and the surgeon directed a repeat preparation in hospital.
The day after the second colonoscopy, Mr Jackson collapsed due to hypotension. Investigations revealed anaemia, dehydration and hypokalaemia. Treatment involved intravenous fluids and electrolytes and bed rest. Mrs Jackson reported that her husband had complained of sore heels.
Dressings were applied to Stage 2 pressure ulcers on both heels. The next day Mr Jackson's blood pressure was normal and he was feeling better. The doctors said he could go home.
However, Mr Jackson was unable to walk due to pain, weakness and the heel dressings. He had lost strength in his legs after not walking and not eating much for the last six days, and his wife said she would be unable to care for him at home until he could walk and toilet by himself.
He waited another two days in acute care for a rehabilitation bed.
On admission to rehabilitation he was noted to have lost five kilograms since his acute admission and developed Stage 3 pressure ulcers. He was provided with specially-made boots to enable walking while the pressure sores were healing, however due to his dementia, he had trouble adjusting to the new boots. He only regained his confidence in walking once the ulcers had healed and he was able to wear his own shoes.Mr Jackson was admitted for a minor procedure yet ended up spending seven days in acute care and 28 days in sub-acute care to get back to regain his premorbid level of function. What went wrong?
Scenario 2The following strategies from The toolkit were utilised:
Braden skin integrity risk screening tool.
Nutrition risk screening tool MNA-SF.
Interdisciplinary assessment of mobility and nutrition issues.
Maintain patients own continence routine.
When Mr Jackson was admitted for the pre-operative preparation, the nurses consulted with Mrs Jackson about his care. Risk screens were performed and discussed with Mr and Mrs Jackson. Together, the staff, patient and carer made a care plan that would enable Mr Jackson to retain his functional independence in hospital. The nurses knew they needed to prompt Mr Jackson regularly to drink enough fluid to keep him well hydrated. Referrals were made to physiotherapy and dietetics for further professional assessment and to ensure his mobility and optimal nutrition were maintained.
Mrs Jackson was encouraged to spend time with her husband in hospital outside visiting hours, and was able to continue looking after him and maintain his daily routine as much as possible throughout his stay. Mr Jackson's admission was uncomplicated.