By Kami Koski
Older people have a lot to think about when it comes to being active or staying free of injuries—including their feet. That’s because you experience many more issues with your feet as you age, such as arthritis, osteoporosis and diabetes-related problems. Painful foot conditions such as calluses and ingrown toenails are also more prevalent among seniors. In fact, seniors are at very high risk for foot problems. In a recent study 87% of older people reported at least one foot problem.
Your Feet Change Over Time
Feet widen and flatten, and the fat padding on the sole of the foot wears down as people age. Older people’s skin is also dryer. Foot pain can be the first sign of trouble in many illnesses related to aging, such as arthritis, diabetes, and circulatory disease. Foot problems can also impair balance and function, and this has a direct influence on whether you’re able to stay active or not.
Understanding that the older adult foot differs from the middle-aged and adolescent foot in many ways is a good starting point. Physical changes to the feet also occur as we age. For instance, the skin surrounding the foot thins with age. This means active seniors require shoes and socks with more padding. They also should have socks that wick moisture away to cut down on blistering (and that means using non-cotton fibers).
It’s important to note that osteoporosis occurs in the feet of many older women. In this case, shock absorption within the shoe and additional cushioning in the insole and socks can prevent painful stress fractures.
Your Feet Are Like Sensors
However, it is perhaps peripheral neuropathy that has the most potential for leading to a more serious foot condition. Peripheral neuropathy is loss of feeling. It can also occur in fingers.
Think of the nerves in your feet functioning like the sensors of a burglar alarm. If there is an intrusion, the sensors on a house alarm send a noise signal. The sensors or nerves on your foot alarm send a pain signal.
As we can’t see our feet inside our shoes, our nerves or sensors protect our feet by sending a pain alert if something rubs. The pain signals us to remove our shoes and inspect our feet. When the pain sensors are no longer working or are impaired, then peripheral neuropathy has started. The result is we may not feel the pain, and there is no warning that something is going wrong, or we have sustained an injury.
Diabetes is a major cause of peripheral neuropathy. The extent of feeling loss can be so severe that someone with diabetes who has bad neuropathy will talk about losing their keys in their shoes and not finding them until they removed their shoes at the end of the day! This loss of feeling can incur serious damage to one’s feet.
If you are not being seen by a foot care professional regularly, this damage could go undetected until a serious injury has occurred.
Regular Assessment & Preventative Treatment is Advised
For the person living with diabetes or suffering from loss of feeling in their feet, good quality seamless socks, proper fitting shoes and regular foot assessments are a must.
Minor injuries can quickly escalate to serious infected wounds for diabetics and seniors. Infections or open wounds can require months and months of professional treatment because of the nature of the “diabetic foot” and the deteriorating skin condition of senior’s feet.
Also, any deformed areas are prone to rubbing. For instance, a hammer toe may rub on the seam of a sock or shoe. Extra depth shoes without seams and wearing seamless socks is vitally important for a person with loss of feeling and deformity.
Regular assessment is the best way to catch minor foot conditions before they become big problems, but it can be difficult for many seniors to physically get to see a foot care professional. The solution is to have a mobile foot care person come to your home.
An assessment and treatment visit from a foot care professional should include an examination of all of your socks and shoes for possible aggravation points and to make adjustments if possible. In addition, it should include the following:
- Clipping & Filing Toenails
- Minimizing Corns & Calluses
- Checking for Infection
- Treating Ingrown Toenails
- Applying Padding & Inserts
- Referral to a Podiatrist if Needed
Foot care should be done on a preventative basis. Do not wait until you have pain or something is wrong. The earlier you start a foot care programme, the easier it will be to stay active and healthy.
Kami Koski is president of All-Ways Foot Care. All-Ways Foot Care provides in-home foot care services by registered nurses or licensed practical nurses throughout the lower mainland. They can be reached at (604) 873 8533 or http://www.AllWaysFootCare.com