Mainly characterized by discoloration of the skin, vitiligo is one of the most common skin diseases, approximately affecting around 1% of the population. Although it is not infectious nor contagious, this cutaneous disorder does require a significant adaptation for people living with this condition. Let’s find out more about the impact of vitiligo on seniors, and the different resources that are available to them.
What is vitiligo?
Vitiligo is defined as a skin disorder affecting melanocytes, resulting in the appearance of white patches on some parts of the body (face, hands, feet, knees, etc.). Because these cells are responsible for pigmentation of the skin, the detachment of melanocytes is then associated with skin discoloration.
Most of the time, this cutaneous condition is symmetrical, affecting both sides of the body. In such cases, it is referred to as vitiligo vulgaris (or generalized vitiligo). However, it can sometimes only affect a specific area. It will then be considered as focal (or segmental) vitiligo.
Emotional challenges for seniors dealing with vitiligo
Although the first signs of vitiligo usually develop relatively young (before the age of 40 for most people), this skin disease may also affect older adults. Even if the main direct consequences are aesthetic, the impact on the emotional level is significant and should certainly not be ignored.
- Loss of self-esteem ;
- Impaired mood ;
- Stress ;
- Depression ;
- Anxiety ;
The discomfort caused by the changes in body appearance, especially in easily visible areas, is a source of major emotional and psychological challenges for many. Seniors with vitiligo are therefore particularly prone to social isolation. This is why it is so important to always remain vigilant when facing this dermatological disorder, ensuring that all resources are available to properly support seniors living with this skin disease.
Vitiligo in seniors: consequences on overall health?
Fortunately, vitiligo itself causes no direct physical health problems (apart from depigmentation). It is neither painful nor contagious. However, in addition to emotional consequences there are also some general health aspects to keep in mind.
Caution regarding sun exposure
With the appearance of these whitish patches that are devoid of melanocytes (cells responsible for skin pigmentation), seniors living with vitiligo need to be more cautious about sun exposure. Not only is it essential to use effective sunscreen protection (minimum SPF 30), but also to limit the time spent under direct solar exposure. These recommendations are intended to minimize the risks of additional depigmentation spots, or even the development of some skin cancers, for example.
An autoimmune disorder
If you or an elderly relative have recently been diagnosed with vitiligo, you should be aware that there may sometimes be a correlation between this condition and other autoimmune diseases and endocrinopathies.
Although the exact causes of vitiligo are still undetermined, specialists have discovered that the onset of symptoms is certainly related to an inflammatory reaction involving the immune system. Moreover, it is assumed that a genetic predisposition may be the primary cause of most reported cases of vitiligo.
For example, for around ⅕ of patients affected by vitiligo, a correlation has been observed with disorders of the thyroid gland. If you think this may be your case, be sure to discuss it with your doctor for a complete check-up of your overall health.
Available treatments against this skin disease
Although there is no complete cure for vitiligo, some treatments are fortunately available to limit the consequences of this skin disorder. Whether it involves covering up discolored spots, or using repigmentation treatments, solutions are generally chosen according to the stage of progression of the disease.
If the problem is localized, or even for some cases of generalized vitiligo, phototherapy is usually considered as an interesting treatment. Indeed, UVB light has the power to stimulate the production of melanocytes, which are the cells responsible for skin pigmentation. In addition to exposure to ultraviolet rays, some treatments are also combined with oral medications. This is the case with PUVA therapy, also known as photochemotherapy. At all times, it is always important to respect the recommendations of your healthcare professional.
Other solutions also include some topical treatments (cortisone creams or calcipotriene for example), as well as the possibility of surgery in the most severe cases.
Visavie: inclusive services for all seniors
Through our day-to-day actions, our mission at Visavie focuses on helping seniors and their families to enjoy the best possible quality of life. Our senior living advisors and professional caregivers are always attentive to your needs, showing you the deepest empathy. Whether you are looking for assistance in finding a seniors’ residence adapted to your needs, or high-quality home care services, Visavie is there to support you every step of the way.
Although it is true that vitiligo in seniors involves several psychological and emotional challenges, you should always remember that solutions do exist to help you, or your beloved elderly relative. In addition to proper medical care and treatment, do not hesitate to benefit from personalized support from one of our experienced advisors.