Why Do Older Folks Heal So Slowly?
A big culprit is something called senescent cells—and scientists are working on neutralizing them.
I recently visited an 83-year-old patient in the hospital after EMTs rushed her to the ER with an infected leg wound. Her ordeal started inconspicuously when she bumped into the sharp edge of a table and developed a small cut. The patient’s wound didn’t close, but she ignored it until she woke up in pain one morning two weeks after first injuring her leg. Her daughter called 911 after noticing angry, red skin discoloration and pus—both signs of an infection. Our medical team treated her with IV antibiotics and cleared up the infection, but the wound did not fully close until at least a month later, well after she was discharged from the hospital.
How different the story is when children get a cut. They may scream initially, but within days, the scab falls off, revealing new skin. Why was healing so delayed in my 83-year-old patient compared to a healthy child?
The answer is age. Decades of life slow down healing for most tissues, and wounds in skin can offer a window into why this slowdown occurs.