“Scleroderma: The Underdiagnosed Autoimmune Disease Affecting Seniors”


Most people haven’t heard of the autoimmune disease known as scleroderma. While it is not very widespread compared to many other conditions and illnesses, scleroderma does affect more than 300,000 Americans. Since scleroderma can manifest in elderly adults, their family caregivers and home care providers should become more familiar with the disease and be on the lookout for symptoms. June is Scleroderma Awareness Month and it’s an excellent time to get educated.

Symptoms of Scleroderma

The cause of scleroderma is unknown, but it happens when a person’s immune system overreacts and irritates connective tissues. The noticeable symptoms include tight skin with shiny patches, inflamed joints, numbness or pain in the fingers and toes and acid reflux. Of course, these symptoms are similar to many other diseases and chronic conditions, especially in seniors. That’s why scleroderma is very underdiagnosed and undertreated. There is no cure but several medications can help ease symptoms. 

The danger of scleroderma is what happening to the body that cannot be seen. Internally, the condition causes thickening and scarring around internal organs. The organs, like the heart, lungs and digestive system, have to work harder and do so under more stress. In seniors, this can cause numerous health problems because their organs are usually less efficiently operating due to age-related illnesses. Family caregivers and home care providers should pay attention to the visible symptoms of the disease so that treatment can take place before the internal problems become too serious.

Seniors and Scleroderma

If an elderly relative has been diagnosed with scleroderma, family caregivers will need to step up their duties. Seniors with scleroderma are often unable to live independently because the stiffness, pain and related health conditions create obstacles to mobility and dexterity. Many family caregivers hire a home care provider to help with tasks like bathing, dressing, grooming, meal preparation and housekeeping. The home care provider should encourage the elderly adult to do all they can alone, but then step in when the senior needs help. 

Most seniors want to stay in their own home, even if they are struggling with a chronic condition like scleroderma. Because scleroderma is chronic, many elderly adults rely more and more on family caregivers and home care providers to help them out and allowing them to age at home. While it can be a real challenge to adjust to the physical and emotional changes that scleroderma brings, the presence of a professional home care provider allows seniors to maintain independence. 

With Scleroderma Awareness Month, it’s easier than ever for family caregivers to educate themselves and their aging relative about scleroderma. The more aware they are, the sooner they can sign up for treatments if needed.


Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research


National Scleroderma Foundation, https://scleroderma.org/