The Skin I’m In

Fiona Cowdell is a Reader in Wellbeing in Long-Term Conditions at the University of Hull and a nurse. She’s about to begin a National Institute for Health Research Knowledge Mobilisation Research Fellowship. Fiona has dual interests in applied clinical research with a focus on older people and skin health and in methods of moving research from academia to patients and clinicians. She tweets at @fionacowdell 

hands-578918_960_720I’m writing this blog by way of thanking the British Geriatric Society for awarding me a Nurses Study Grant to attend the recent Royal College of Nursing & BGS joint Older People’s Conference in Birmingham.

We are all familiar with ageing, either from your own experience or from working with patients. We know older people are often unjustly or unconsciously labelled. I research skin health and well-being in older people and I can’t help myself but to talk about this; it’s not for everyone but it fascinates me! Over and over again I have raised the subject with clinicians, patients and lay people and virtually every time they people make the leap straight to incontinence associated dermatitis and pressure ulcers. Although this work is important it seems to me that there is much to be work to be done to promote healthy skin ageing. The skin is our outer layer, a visual representation of ourselves, the way we experience the warm breeze, the sensuous touch, the comforting hand of a clinician.

As the skin ages, it changes and inevitably becomes more susceptible to damage and breakdown. It’s generally agreed that skin dryness, cracks and itching are common problems. Although they increase the risk of skin breakdown they are often viewed as ‘minor’ and go untreated. Skin breakdown can have a devastating effect on older people and can be costly to the health economy. But at the moment we know very little about how older people experience skin ageing, the measures they take to maintain or improve skin health and the interventions we should advise.

 At a concurrent session of the Older People’s Conference I presented my study on ‘the lived experience of ageing skin: implications for practice’. This study is part of a programme of work around keeping skin healthy in older age. In this talk I wanted to

  • Give the audience a deeper understanding of the skin ageing process from the perspective of older people and
  • Demonstrate how older people can effectively be engaged in qualitative research.
  • Discuss my work with the audience and think about application to practice and the need for further studies.

I had a great debate with clinicians about the nature of my work which highlighted important areas for further development and potential working partnerships.

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