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Foot Health Information

Last Updated: April 30, 2015

Mobility is a vital component of independence, making the foot ailments that often plague the elderly especially worrisome. While it may not spring to mind as a top health concern, poor foot health can severely impact a person's ability to live alone, work and participate in social activities.

According to the US National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), impairment of the lower extremities is a leading cause of activity limitation in older people. Foot problems can also lead to knee, hip and lower back pain, which also undermine mobility. The NCHS says 25% of all nursing home patients cannot walk at all, and another 15% can walk only with assistance.

Foot Health Mirrors General Health

The human foot has been called the "mirror of health." Foot doctors, or doctors of podiatric medicine (DPMs), are often the first doctors to see signs of such systemic conditions as diabetes, arthritis, and circulatory disease in the foot. Among these signs are dry skin, brittle nails, burning and tingling sensations, feelings of cold, numbness, and discoloration. Always seek professional care when these signs appear.

Foot Problems Can Be Prevented

For reasons that are difficult to fathom, many people, including a lot of older people, believe that it is normal for the feet to hurt, and simply resign themselves to enduring foot problems that could be treated.

There are more than 300 different foot ailments. Some can be traced to heredity, but for an aging population, most of these ailments stem from the cumulative effect of years of neglect or abuse. However, even among people in their retirement years, many foot problems can be treated successfully, and the pain of foot ailments relieved.

Whether due to neglect or abuse, the normal wear and tear of the years causes changes in feet. As people age, their feet tend to spread, and lose the fatty pads that cushion the bottom of the feet. Additional weight can affect the bone and ligament structure. Older people, consequently, should have their feet measured for shoe sizes more frequently, rather than presuming that their shoe sizes remain constant. Dry skin and brittle nails are other conditions older people commonly face. Finally, it's a fact that women, young and old, have four times as many foot problems as men, and high heels are often the culprits.

Observing preventive foot health care has many benefits. Chief among them are that it can increase comfort, limit the possibility of additional medical problems, reduce the chances of hospitalization because of infection, and lessen requirements for other institutional care.

Foot Health Tips for Seniors

Here are some tips for keeping feet healthy

  • Wear Shoes That Fit: A surprising number of people wear ill-fitting shoes. Shopping for shoes in the afternoon can prevent choosing shoes that are too small for feet that swell during the day.
  • Walk Regularly: Walking is the best exercise for your feet.
  • Wear Seam-Free Socks: This can prevent skin irritations from developing.
  • Have Corns & Calluses Professionally Treated: Never cut corns and calluses with a razor, pocket knife or other such instrument; use over-the-counter foot products only with the advice of a podiatrist.
  • Bathe & Inspect Feet Daily: Use lukewarm (not hot) water and mild soap to keep feet free of debris. If you notice any redness, swelling, cracks in the skin or sores, consult your podiatrist.
  • Keep Nails in Shape: Trim or file your toenails straight across.
  • Have Regular Exams: It's best to have your feet examined by a DPM at least twice a year.

Copyright 2008, American Podiatric Medical Association, Inc., (Original title:Foot Health and Aging) 

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