Recent studies show that the average adult will walk over 100,000 miles during their life. That equals walking around the earth five times. Foot care matters and feet in old age need extra care.
How Do Feet Change with Age?
Here are some of the normal changes that occur in the feet with age:
- Soles: Thick cartilage and fat pads that provide cushioning shock absorbers become thinner.
- Skin: The skin and connective tissue also become thin and more fragile.
- Nails: Toenails become more brittle and more prone to fungal infection.
- Width: The ligaments holding the bones together stretch with time, making the feet wider and flatter.
- Flexibility: The normal aging process causes increased stiffness, especially with a history of inactivity.
- Circulation: Diminished blood flow slows wounds from healing.
- Impaired sensation: Changes in the nerves cause tingling, burning, and lessened awareness of pain when something is wrong.
What’s more, When seniors experience difficulty leaning down or bending over, they frequently neglect foot and toenail care. Women are much more likely than men to suffer from foot problems, especially if they’ve worn shoes with pointed toes or high heels.
What Common Medical Conditions Affect the Foot?
The foot is sometimes referred to as “The Mirror of Health” by the American Podiatric Medical Association because it can show the presence of several health conditions.
- Persistent swelling of the legs and feet: Edema can be a significant indicator of serious cardiovascular, lymphatic, thyroid, or kidney disease as well as a blood clot.
- Cold feet from poor circulation: Impaired blood flow can result from heart disease, high blood pressure, smoking, anemia, low thyroid, and nerve damage from diabetes.
- Clubbing of the toes: When toes and fingertips appear round and bluish, the usual cause is long-term lung disease preventing oxygen from reaching the small blood vessels. Heart and liver disease can also cause clubbing.
- Changes in the color of the toes: Reynaud’s disease causes the blood vessels in the feet and hands to spasm and interfere with circulation, often triggered by temperature changes, rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid conditions, or Sjögren’s disease. Toes and fingers can turn blue, red, or white.
- Foot bone pain: Osteoporosis and stress fractures can damage the bones in the foot.
- Burning in the feet: Burning is an abnormal symptom from diabetic nerve damage, low vitamin B, athlete’s foot, poor circulation, hypothyroidism, and kidney conditions.
- Gait changes or foot-dragging: Usually the culprit is nerve damage preventing the legs from being able to move normally. Diabetes, alcohol abuse, and neurological conditions of the brain and spinal cord can be involved.
- Claw toes: If not caused by poorly fitting shoes, neurological conditions, as well as diabetes and alcoholism, can alter the tendons that connect the muscles to the toe bones so they contract like claws.
- Foot spasms: Similar to charley horses in your feet, sudden, painful cramps can be the result of muscle fatigue, but other causes include dehydration, impaired circulation, vitamin D deficiency, and electrolyte imbalances in the blood.
- Dark spot on the foot or under a toenail: Melanoma is a kind of fast-growing and often lethal cancer that first shows as a very dark mark even in places that haven’t been exposed to sunlight.
- Yellow toenails: Although crusty toenails are usually the result of fungus, other conditions such as lymphatic and lung problems and rheumatoid arthritis can produce them.
- Spoon-shaped toenails: Low iron can change the toenail shape to become scoop-like.
- Nails or nail beds becoming mostly white: When all of the toenails become white, it often results from congestive heart failure, liver disease, or kidney conditions.
What Are the Most Common Foot Problems in Seniors?
The human foot is subject to more than 300 different foot problems. The elderly are already at high risk for dangerous falling.
- Bunions: Whether due to genetic causes, poorly fitting shoes, or standing for long periods, the joints at the base of the inner and outer toes enlarge, often pushing the other toes out of alignment.
- Blisters: As the feet change shape over time, poorly fitting shoes cause friction over tight spots.
- Fungal infections: Toenail fungus and athlete’s foot are both contagious infections that anyone can get. They thrive in warm, moist places. In addition to crusty, crumbling yellow toenails, symptoms may include itching and burning.
- Ingrown toenails: Usually caused when improperly trimmed nails grow into the skin, they easily become infected, so people with diabetes or weakened immune systems should have regular podiatric care.
- Calluses and Corns: Calluses are thick areas of dead skin usually caused by constant pressure. Corns are small circular calluses often containing an inflamed core.
- Mallet toe and hammertoe: Both are joint dislocations in the toes that often displace other toes and cause corns or bunions. Mallet toe affects the joint nearest the toenail while hammertoe affects the middle toe joint. They can result from genetics, poorly fitting footwear, bunions, and other conditions.
- Heel spurs: Abnormal bone builds up on the heel near the arch from long periods of standing, improperly fitting shoes, or obesity.
- Neuropathy: When the sensory nerves in the feet become damaged by diabetes, poor circulation, or other conditions, sores and infections can go undetected and even worsen into cellulitis and gangrene.
- Edema: Swollen feet result from cardiovascular issues and inactivity. Because the edema causes discomfort, it usually interferes with mobility.
What Are Causes of Painful Feet in Older Adults?
Foot pain in older people is a significant issue — statistics show that one in three seniors over the age of 65 contends with foot pain. All of the conditions listed above can cause mild to severe pain.
What Is Geriatric Foot Care?
It involves treating the whole person with a holistic approach with awareness of the medical history, activity, lifestyle, and current concerns. Problems are addressed by checking the feet daily and maintaining good communication not only with the owner of the feet but with all care providers.
How Can Family Caregivers Help their Loved Ones with Foot Care when They Live in a Care Facility?
Although many kind, hard-working professionals are employed by care homes, maintaining adequate staffing is challenging even in the best facilities. Frequent visits contribute to the welfare of loved ones not only by socializing but by keeping an eye on conditions. Here are significant ways to help with foot care:
- Be informed about the loved one’s medical needs.
- Provide and label personal supplies as well as socks and shoes.
- Regularly examine both feet, taking photos as needed for documentation.
- Attend care conferences, make notes, ask questions, and offer written suggestions according to the preferences of the loved one.
How Can Family Caregivers Help Seniors with In-Home Foot Care?
When personal caregivers teach each other the following skills, the attention alone improves the loved one’s quality of life:
- Foot hygiene: File rough areas when feet are dry. Ensure daily washing with warm water and gentle soap. Dab dry, especially in between toes.
- Daily checks: Use a mirror to inspect each foot entirely.
- Toenail care for seniors: Trim nails straight across after washing while the nails are soft. Apply moisturizer to dry skin but not between the toes.
- Circulation: Slowly massage feet starting with each toe and working up to the ankle. If desired, play relaxing music or use the time for conversation.
- Socks: Apply clean, breathable cotton socks without rough seams or a slubby weave. Ensure that support stockings are smooth without wrinkles, tight bands, or constrictions.
- Shoes: Offer shoes made of breathable materials such as leather or fabric. Shoes should be square-toed with ample room in the toe box to allow movement. To support the ankle, the heel cup needs to be snug. Arch supports or other inserts should fit securely without pinching. The shoe sole should grip the floor to prevent falls.
- Elevation: To prevent swelling, prop the feet on pillows or offer a recliner.
- Exercises (at any time of the day or night): Teach and share foot exercises such as toe wiggles, ankle pumps, dancing in place, or rolling a ball on the floor while sitting.
- Safety: Discourage crossing the legs due to the risk of cutting off circulation or creating blood clots. Flip-flops and sandals increase the likelihood of falls.
- Fun: Painting toenails, assisted ball-kicking, playing that feet are talking to one another, resistance exercises such as pushing against a cushion, and tactile stimulation with a vibrating massager or hot packs are all ways to transform simple foot care into shared memories.
Preventing and Managing Foot Pain in Seniors
Daily exercise will help prevent and manage foot pain. A common comfort measure is soaking feet in warm water, adding Epsom salts to ease swelling. An ice pack wrapped in cloth and applied to a sore area for up to 15 minutes can ease the discomfort of inflammation or overuse. Several over-the-counter medicated creams and ointments are available for temporary pain relief. Mild over-the-counter pain relievers can be effective when taken half an hour before activity or before going to bed.
When to Seek Professional Help
Many people wonder when to seek medical advice about foot problems. The family doctor is trained to handle most problems and will know when to recommend a podiatrist. The following conditions indicate the need for a call:
- New or worsening foot pain
- Nails turning brittle or developing unusual markings
- Numbness, persistent coldness, or abnormal sensations
- Sudden hair loss on the feet
- Skin color changes
- Sores that don’t heal, infections, or any kind of oozing
- Increased swelling of the feet and ankles
Importance of foot care in older adults
Because the older population is more likely to experience mobility and balance problems leading to a higher risk of falling, foot care is especially important. For many, their feet are their only means of transportation. The ability to remain independent depends on their feet.
Elderly feet are like classic cars with a lot of mileage. Your extra care makes a difference. Remember that what’s good for the soul is good for the sole!