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
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
- 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.,
www.apma.org (Original title:Foot Health and Aging)