Foot problems are a big concern for the elderly, and injuries or complications with feet and ankles not only diminish quality of life and reduce general wellness, but can contribute to serious consequences if left unattended.
Aging affects the capacity of the body to provide circulation to the feet and slows the immune response, making the elderly more prone to infection and increasing the time it takes for cuts, blisters and ulcers to heal. With age, skin becomes increasingly fragile and feet are more prone to injury from normal stressors of daily activity and rest.
Unstable walking, changed gait, long periods of sitting and worn or ill-fitting shoes can all place extra pressure on easily broken skin, with an added risk of injury from falls.
Nail care is another major concern for the elderly, and can have a big impact on foot health. The simple task of cutting the toenails can become tricky due to poor eyesight, inability to reach the feet and loss of hand strength, which can prevent adequate care and lead to unintentional injury. Nails can also become thickened, distorted or brittle and sharp over the years, and ingrown nails can easily become infected. It is important to have nails carefully trimmed with the correct instruments, or seek the assistance of a skilled person, such as a podiatrist.
Problems with bones and joints - the most prominent being arthritis - are common for patients in this age group and become more problematic and severe over time.
Arthritis comes in about 100 different forms, with the most common forms affecting the elderly being osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Swollen joints or bony bunions can be incredibly painful, and can seriously affect your ability to walk, along with adding to the likelihood of falls. Treatments are available for these conditions, both to ease pain and to provide stability.
As feet age, they naturally develop more problems. But painful, uncomfortable feet are not just something to put up with. Many older people believe it is normal for feet to hurt and resign themselves to foot pain that can be treated.
There are simple things that older people can do to combat these issues:
1. Regularly have feet measured for shoe size. Shoes should hold the foot firmly in place, giving enough support – worn and floppy favourites have to go. A firm sole, strong heel counter and a soft upper is best for daily activities
2. Go for walks - walking is good general exercise for most people’s feet
3. Ensure that pantyhose and stockings are the correct size, and preferably free of seams
4. Avoid going barefoot
5. Never cut corns or callouses yourself and don’t use over-the-counter corn products as they may do more harm than good. Only apply creams, medications or chemical treatments that have been recommended to you by a podiatrist or medical specialist
6. Don’t wear tight garters, as these can affect your circulation
7. Bathe feet daily in lukewarm water, using a mild moisturising soap, or moisturise separately. For older people with diabetes, avoid over-soaking the skin and instead shower daily as normal and apply cream
8. File your toenails, or trim with nail clippers, so they are slightly curved just short of the end of the toe
9. Inspect your feet every day; you may need to use a mirror to see the bottom of your foot.