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Over the course of our lives, we spend a lot of time on our feet, and this may take a serious toll. According to research, an average adult will walk up to 75,000 miles during their lifetime; that is as much as three times around the planet! Imagine that and it isn’t difficult to see why foot care should be an important part of our daily routine.
It may surprise you then that most adult Americans, despite 80% of them having experienced some sort of foot problem, continue to place foot care at the bottom of the health priority list. To avoid problems with the feet later in life, you should ensure that you have a good care routine. But even if you are reaching your golden years and haven’t given your tootsies the TLC they deserve, it’s never too late to get started.
Importance of Proper Foot Care for Seniors
It can be very easy to overlook the feet, especially when there are other health concerns like lowering cholesterol, maintaining a healthy weight, and getting enough exercise. But despite what a lot of people think, not looking after the feet can exacerbate certain problems or lead to physical issues. For this reason, it is essential to place importance on proper foot care.
It is only natural that as we get older, health problems become more of an issue. For example, older adults are more prone to conditions such as arthritis in the feet as well as other physical foot problems, such as bunions and heel pain. By maintaining excellent foot hygiene and health, your risk of these problems is significantly decreased.
Moreover, it is common for medical conditions like problems with circulation and diabetes to worsen as our bodies age. Both of these conditions can have a serious impact on the feet, but choosing to take good care of them can go some way in protecting your overall health.
There is an alarming number of trips and falls every year among older adults, but this number could potentially be reduced through proper foot care. As a direct result of this, you may also notice a general improvement in your quality of life since walking will not be as uncomfortable, and your balance will not be impaired.
Common Senior Foot Ailments
It feels, as we get older, that the list of ailments and problems we face is never-ending. While there are a lot of things that can affect us, being aware of these can go a long way in helping to prevent them and improve them once they have begun.
Bunions affect women more often than men, but that isn’t to say that men won’t be affected. These protrusions are essentially a bony lump that can cause the big toe to begin pointing inwards as opposed to forwards. They can be painful and are often the result of conditions like arthritis. However, they can be aided by wearing wider shoes and taking pain relief
Corns & Calluses
Corns and calluses are a build-up of dry skin which can be caused by several factors, including wearing shoes that don’t fit correctly. You’ll find that calluses generally appear on the bottom of the feet while corns can arise anywhere. It can be painful to walk with corns and calluses, and the condition is one of the most prominent among the elderly, but soaking the feet and removing the dry skin can help.
There are several reasons that you experience pain in the heels, with plantar fasciitis being one of the most common causes; this is an inflammation of the plantar fascia. But this part of the body may also be affected by heel spurs which are bony protrusions that develop with overstretching. Stretching the feet before heavy activity can help as well as using cold packs and anti-inflammatory medication.
Wearing badly fitting shoes can cause the toes to become deformed. In the case that either the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th toes are bent or otherwise pointing in the wrong direction, this is what is known as hammertoe. In the worst cases, this may require surgery to correct but for mild cases, improving your footwear can help.
Ingrown toenails can affect people at any age, but they become more of a risk as we get older. Many older adults find it difficult to get down and clip their toenails, but this is one of the leading causes of ingrown toenails. It is possible to soak the nail and insert some cotton wool underneath to try to alter the growth path but if this fails, you may need your doctor to lift the nail for you.
The skin on the feet is particularly susceptible to dry skin, so it is important to ensure your foot hygiene is excellent and you regularly apply moisturizer. However, this can be challenging for the elderly as reaching the feet may not be as simple. If you have a caregiver or family member who would be willing to do this for you, it can make a great difference.
Arthritis refers to more than 100 conditions that affect the joints and bones. Typically, where the feet are concerned, gout is the most common form, and this happens when too much uric acid builds up in the joints of the foot. The affected area, usually around the big toe, may become inflamed, red, and painful, but flare-ups can be avoided by ensuring a proper diet including foods that are low in uric acid.
Fungus thrives in moist, dark environments such as between the toes which can result in a fungal infection known as athlete’s foot. This can be very itchy and inflamed as well as resulting in an unpleasant odor. However, it can be easily treated using powders or sprays to kill the fungus.
Edema (Feet/Ankle Swelling)
Edema can affect various parts of the body, but it is most common in the limbs and extremities, particularly the feet. The area will swell as a result of fluid retention. There are various ways to prevent or cure edema, including massage, remaining active and moving the area, as well as reducing your salt intake.
Tips for Caring for Aging Feet
They say that prevention is better than cure, so taking good care of your feet is one of the best ways to reduce the risk of developing foot health conditions. Most of these things are easy to do and simple to fit into your daily routine.
1. Trim Toenails
Keeping the toenails trimmed is an excellent way to prevent infections. If they are too long, there is a risk that they will rub against the skin, causing it to break and then become infected. However, research has shown that many older adults find it difficult to maintain their foot care routine owing to factors such as changes in the structure of the nail and an inability to reach down.
That said, there are ways around these issues, and it is important to consider these to avoid problems down the line. If your dexterity has diminished with age, or you find that bending down to clip the toenails is a struggle, it might be worth booking a regular pedicure or asking for the assistance of a friend or family member.
You may also notice that, as you get older, your toenails become tougher and more difficult to cut. This is a common problem but can be easily solved by soaking the feet prior to cutting the nails as the moisture will soften them. You might include toenail trimming as part of your bathing routine and do it directly after a bath.
It is important to ensure that you don’t cut the toenails too short as this may result in pain or ingrown toenails. To further avoid problems like this, cut the nails straight across rather than in a curved shape. While it is rare, there are instances where an extreme ingrown toenail may only be solved through amputation.
Moreover, once you have finished clipping the nails, you should file down any rough edges to avoid them causing scrapes and cuts on the skin of the neighboring toes.
2. Wash Your Feet Every Day
It may be surprising to learn that a 2020 survey discovered that as many as 1 in 4 adults don’t bathe every day. But keeping your feet clean is incredibly important in the fight against foot infections and ill health. Not washing your feet every day runs the risk of fungal infections and a build-up of bacteria, leaving the feet with an unpleasant odor.
When you clean your feet, always be sure to dry them thoroughly. This is especially important in areas where moisture may build up such as between the toes. Not doing so may cause problems like athlete’s foot. These areas are prone to sweating, particularly in warmer weather so using an antibacterial foot spray is a good way to tackle this problem.
3. Avoid Going Barefoot
Many people enjoy the freedom of not wearing socks, and this is fine when you are at home. However, when you are walking around, there is a risk of stepping on something and causing an injury. As we age, injuries naturally take longer to heal, which can make walking uncomfortable or even painful.
When you leave the house, even if you are walking around in your backyard, it is strongly recommended that you always wear socks and shoes to fully protect your feet. Also, be mindful to choose shoes that offer a comfortable fit to avoid problems like bunions.
4. Change Your Socks Daily
If you do not change your socks or tights daily, this can lead to a build-up of bacteria inside them which will then cause infections on the feet. For this reason, it is essential to wear clean socks every day but also to change them throughout the day should your feet get very sweaty such as during the summer or periods of heightened activity.
The best way to avoid too much foot perspiration is to wear breathable socks that allow for excellent airflow. There are many moisture-wicking socks that will prevent bacteria from building up in warm, moist conditions.
In much the same way as choosing well-fitting shoes, it is also imperative that you choose socks that fit properly. If they are too tight, there is a significant risk that the blood flow will be restricted.
5. Wear Comfortable and Supportive Footwear
Most people have made the mistake at some point or another of wearing badly fitting, uncomfortable shoes. It isn’t a pleasant experience but doing this on a regular basis will affect your foot health and will cause a lot more problems than just pain.
Although discomfort and pain are direct side effects of wearing poorly fitting shoes, you also stand a chance of developing things like bunions, calluses, and corns. In some cases, bunions may need surgery which could see you off your feet for some time.
When choosing your footwear, there are some things you should look out for. One of the most important factors to consider is that the shoe fully supports the foot, encasing it and cradling it as you move. While you may be tempted to wear slippers when you are at home, we would suggest remaining in a comfortable, supportive pair of shoes as anything loose could increase the risk of slipping and falling.
The sole of the shoe should have good traction to further avoid slipping, and you should choose a shoe that doesn’t have a high heel as this can be dangerous.
6. Moisturize Your Feet
If the skin does not have good elasticity, it will easily crack, and not only does this look unsightly, but it can also be incredibly uncomfortable. Unfortunately, dry skin on the feet is a very common problem but also one that can be easily fixed.
Taking regular foot spas is a good way to keep the feet supple and will soften the skin ready for filing with a pumice stone. Moreover, a foot spa is a great way to relax the foot muscles and relieves aches and pains. However, this treatment alone is not enough. You will also need to regularly apply an intense moisturizer.
There are lotions out there that are designed especially for cracked heels, and when applied twice daily, they will have a very fast soothing and repairing effect. It can also help to watch what you are eating as a healthy diet will aid the skin in staying radiant, elastic, and healthy. By eating foods that are high in omega 3 fatty acids, the skin will much more easily be able to repair itself.
7. Boost Your Circulation
As we get older, our circulatory system changes, and in many cases, this results in decreased blood flow. As a direct result of this, healing will take longer, so if you have any existing problems with your feet, they will take longer to clear up compared to when you were younger.
However, there are ways that you can boost your circulation and improve healing times, as well as preventing further injuries. When the blood flow is consistent and stable, this will help to reduce the chances of infection since the skin is less likely to tear.
When you are sitting down, try elevating the feet using a footstool. You might also choose to use a foot massager, which is a mobile device designed to work the foot muscles and will have various benefits including improved circulation and pain relief.
It is also important to exercise regularly as this boosts circulation. If your physical fitness is not what it once was, even a simple walk can get the blood pumping. There are several foot exercises you may also perform, targeting the exact area.
8. Check Your Feet on a Daily Basis
Everyone should make sure that they check their feet daily for signs of infection, dry skin, health conditions, and damage. However, for those with diabetes, this is even more important. Doctors suggest that if you have diabetes, you should have a thorough professional foot examination at least once a year. This is because the condition can result in numbness of the feet, which could increase the chance of ulcers.
To avoid diabetic ulceration, meticulous foot care and inspection is a must. Improving your foot care will ensure that, if you do develop an ulcer, it will heal much more quickly and the outlook will be more favorable. In fact, research has shown that, while there are many cases of this, diabetic ulcers are a very preventable condition when good care is taken.
When you are applying your daily foot cream or washing your feet, this is the ideal opportunity to give your feet the once over. You should be looking for any of the conditions we have discussed in this article, such as corns, bunions, and various wounds, including blisters. Experts recommend beginning in between the toes as this is one of the most common problem areas but also often overlooked. Here is where you may find cracked skin and the beginnings of a fungal infection.
For many older adults, it can be difficult to check the feet, but it is important to find a way to do it. You may wish to enlist the help of a loved one or use a mirror to get a better look at your feet. In the event that you do notice anything untoward, you should contact your doctor or pharmacist who will be able to offer you the most suitable advice and treatment.