Bumps, scratches, and scrapes are a normal part of life. And, of course, a toddler will heal from these more quickly than someone in their 80s – but at what age does healing slow down?
Is there a hard cut-off, or is it more gradual? Does slow healing mean that your body can’t heal fully? Are there any steps you can take to speed healing, or do you just have to wait it out? And what does science have to say?
The better we understand healing, the better choices we can make to help our bodies heal naturally at any age. But before we dive into that, it’s important to remember that there’s a difference between a wound that’s slow to heal and a wound that won’t heal.
If you’re dealing with wounds that won’t heal in elderly people, contact your healthcare professionals immediately to make sure you’re getting all the care your body needs.
On the other hand, if your body is able to heal, and you simply want to learn more about it, a bird’s-eye look at healing will help us to better understand the question, “At what age does healing slow down?”
How does the body heal itself?
From birth, the way our body functions changes over time. Some of these changes are positive, like the prefrontal cortex development that happens in our mid-20s. The older we get, however, the more those changes bring challenges with them.
Let’s look at the skin, for example. Baby skin is soft, smooth, and supple due to the naturally high levels of collagen, moisture, and fatty acids on the skin. In fact, babies have as much as six times more collagen in their skin than adults do.
Once we’re adults, we naturally need less collagen in our skin because we aren’t growing anymore. Our metabolism slows down, and our bodies’ hormone needs change from the needs we had as children.
Since the body is such a complex machine, all of these things can play a role in healing.
So at what age does healing slow down? There’s not a single, hard-and-fast answer. At any age, there are four general phases to healing. Let’s explore each one, as well as the ways that aging might impact them.
Phase One: Hemostasis
Your body enters the hemostasis phase of healing immediately upon being injured. During this phase, your body sends extra platelets to the site of the wound. This type of cell has the ability to stick to itself, creating a scab and sealing the wound.
By themselves, platelets can’t hold a wound closed for long, or really at all. That’s why your body sends coagulation agents to strengthen the scab during this phase.
At what age does healing slow down in the hemostasis phase? The hemostasis phase doesn’t appear to be affected by aging. This is good news, since without hemostasis, your body would be unable to stop bleeding in even a tiny cut.
Phase Two: Inflammation
The next stage of healing is the inflammation phase. The inflammation phase is the body’s way of cleaning the wound. This kind of cleaning is caused by your body’s immune system.
It begins with fluid called “transudate” leaking from damaged blood vessels. Transudate contains few cells or proteins, making it the perfect way for your body to send more cells to the wounded area.
Then your body begins to remove any dead cells, pathogens, and bacteria using white blood cells and other immune responses.
From the outside, this phase looks like increased inflammation and swelling.
At what age does healing slow down in the inflammation phase? There’s no set number, but we can definitively say that in the elderly, this phase happens more slowly, and the response is often less intense.
Since the inflammation phase of healing is delayed as we age, the rest of the healing happens more slowly, as well. And since the body’s response is less intense, the risk of infection is greater.
Phase Three: Proliferative
Once the inflammation phase has settled, your body moves into the proliferative phase of healing. During this phase, your body begins to repair and replace the skin that was damaged. This is when the scab will start to fall off, and you’ll notice bright pink or red skin underneath.
On the inside, your body is doing a few things to make this happen. Collagen production increases to help your body form new blood vessels and skin tissue. The wound will get smaller as this happens, pulling itself together using special cells called myofibroblasts.
At what age does healing slow down in the proliferative phase? It’s hard to say, but there’s a clue in the way our bodies produce collagen. Collagen production decreases at a rate of about 1% each year after the age of 20. Collagen is necessary to form the blood vessels needed to carry extra cells to the wounded area, as well as necessary for new tissue formation.
As a result, the older you are, the more slowly the proliferative phase will happen. It’s also important to remember that at any age, this phase moves quickest when the wound is kept moist and hydrated.
Phase Four: Remodeling
The last phase of wound healing is called the remodeling phase. During this phase, your body quietly does some major reconstruction around your wound. The collagen in the tissue where the wound once was is changed from type III to type I, which is stronger and more stable.
Type I collagen is also thinner than type III. This is why the skin on and around the wound will be raised during the proliferative phase, but the scar will fade during the remodeling phase.
At what age does healing slow down in the remodeling phase? Interestingly, a few small studies have found that age has no effect on the remodeling phase when the wound is treated in optimal conditions.
At what age does healing slow down?
When you have a wound not healing correctly, there’s usually a list of things that may be to blame. Yes, aging is one, but at what age does healing slow down?
There’s no hard and fast answer to this question. A person’s unique medical history usually has much more impact on their healing than their calendar age.
Aging is something of a mystery. It can impact every part of the body but does so differently with every person. Some people can have early-onset dementia as young as 30, while others are still swimming, biking, and living normally in their 80s.
The same goes for healing as we age.
On average, by age 65, clear changes in healing can be observed in most people. Any interruption in normal healing will show that overall healing is delayed by 20%-60% by this age, but there’s nothing to indicate a flat rate of change.
Instead, several things can impact healing in addition to age. Some of these things occur more frequently with age, but others can be chronic conditions that impact your healing.
Conditions that may impact healing
At what age does healing slow down? Healing has less to do with your calendar age and more with your body’s ability to heal itself. Let’s take a look at just a few of the factors that can impact healing.
If you have any kind of immunodeficiency disorder, healing will happen more slowly. This is partially because the inflammation phase can’t happen properly, slowing overall healing and making you more susceptible to infection.
Cancer may also slow wound healing. The reasons for slower wound healing with cancer and radiation treatment are complex, but have to do with impairing your body’s immune response.
Diabetes can also slow healing by impairing circulation, which makes it more difficult for your body to deliver nutrients to the wound site. Diabetes might also impact your nervous and biochemical responses to a wound, slowing healing overall.
Finally, the way healing slows down with age is increased by several different lifestyle choices.
Regularly smoking or drinking can damage your body’s natural functions, including its ability to heal itself.
Stress can impact wound healing for similar reasons – your body just isn’t able to heal itself well in that condition.
Malnutrition is another cause of slow wound healing at any age. If you have a vitamin or collagen deficiency, or simply aren’t getting enough of any nutrients in your diet, your body won’t have what it needs to heal wounds.
So now you have some ideas of why wounds might heal slowly and at what age healing does slow down, but what do you do if wounds won’t heal at all?
What can you do for wounds that won’t heal in elderly people?
Wounds that won’t heal in elderly people are a common problem to face, especially if they’re dealing with any of the conditions above.
When it comes to slow-healing wounds, causes can include a number of illnesses, environmental effects, and genetic predisposition. That said, you don’t necessarily have to wait it out. There are steps you can take to help wounds that aren’t healing.
Stay in touch with your healthcare team
First and foremost, if you notice wounds that won’t heal in elderly people you’re caring for, stay in close contact with their healthcare team. They will be able to alert you to any factors that might impact healing and help you keep an eye out for infection.
At what age does healing slow down enough that infection is a problem? Any age where there’s a noticeable delay in healing means you have to watch for infection.
Signs of infection include:
- Intense redness
- Severe swelling
- Red streaks
- Increased pain
- Larger scab
Follow good wound care practices
You can prevent infection and speed up healing by following good wound care practices. At what age does healing slow down enough that these don’t make a difference? The great news is that good wound care makes a difference no matter your age.
Start by keeping your wound clean. This doesn’t mean using hydrogen peroxide or iodine directly on the wound, as these things can actually irritate and damage the skin. Instead, wash about once a day with warm water before putting the bandage back on.
Wounds heal better when they’re covered, so keep your wound covered with a clean, dry bandage. This will speed healing by protecting the wound from friction and bacteria.
Keep an eye on nutrition and hydration levels
When asking, “at what age does healing slow down?” remember that poor hydration and nutrition will slow healing much more than age. This is true when you have a wound, but it’s equally true when it comes to healing from illnesses.
Collagen anti-aging supplements are all the rage, and there’s a grain of truth in the fad beauty products. Collagen contains 8 of the 9 essential amino acids – chemical compounds your body can’t live without and can’t make for itself.
Collagen is used to build and repair nearly every part of your body. So adding it to your diet can help your body heal more quickly and prevent some of the effects of aging.
You’ll also want to make sure to get plenty of vitamin A, vitamin C, and zinc in your diet since these are vitamins that help promote wound healing. And, of course, drink plenty of water to stay hydrated!
Overall, even though healing slows down with age, you can prevent severe healing problems by eating a healthy, balanced diet.
Helping your body heal
Whether you’re dealing with wounds that won’t heal in elderly people or noticing slower healing in your own body, you start to wonder, “At what age does healing slow down?”
Healing is one of the most amazing things the body can do, even when it happens more slowly than usual. When dealing with a wound or injury healing slowly, remember that your body is working hard to bring things back to normal. The most important thing you can do is help it along.
This means following proper wound care protocols, reaching out to your healthcare team, and adding high-quality supplements – like hydrolyzed collagen – to your diet to make sure your body has all the nutrients it needs to heal.