By Bianca Bina
Feet are often given little consideration before an ache, pain or noticeable change occurs. But podiatrists warn that the overwhelming neglect of feet could cause Americans a number of serious health issues over time, particularly in seniors.
“There are so many reasons seniors need foot care,” says Dr. Shoua Lo, a podiatrist in advanced orthopedics at Altru in Grand Forks. “There’s always something that could be done better for a senior’s feet, whether it’s advising them on the type of shoes they wear or type of medication they use. Seniors are just like anybody else, but do require a little bit different care.”
As we age, circulation in the body slows, nails become brittle, there are metabolic changes and the skin is drained of moisture. It is with these changes that a focus on foot care becomes even more important, especially when pre-existing health issues are present.
Lo says seniors will become aware of a topical problem — a scratch, a bump or redness — but won’t realize there is actually an underlying issue leading to the surface problem. He says any pain or abnormality should be analyzed by a doctor.
“Seniors can tolerate a lot of pain,” he says. “They can have the pain and ignore it, or just give the pain a timeline for relief. But when you have pain in your feet, it isn’t normal. It’s a warning that you have to see somebody, at least the family doctor.”
Sometimes it’s hard for seniors to seek help, Lo says, but it’s important to see a professional at least once per year.
The activity level of seniors is not necessarily a concern with foot care, though activity does help improve circulation and manage weight. Even active seniors need to be wary of sprains, fractures and falls, and he recommends choosing comfortable, wide-toed styles of shoes that support the feet of active and inactive Americans to help prevent some of the possible issues that can come from ill-fitting footwear.
But shoes aren’t the only source of foot pain and problems. Oftentimes, there is a predisposition because of the shape of the foot and health of the person — diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, prior injury, weight gain, cellulitis, etc. — that makes orthopedic visits more necessary. TV commercials, health gurus, drug stores and even family members claim to have the answer to these problems, but when it comes down to it, doctors are the only solution to the problems.
“Bunions, fitting our feet into fashionable shoes — we get these bumps and callouses and people accept what the media or their children are telling them,” Lo says. “But some of this guidance is useless, whether it’s over-the-counter medication saying they can get rid of the toenails or corns, they actually open up another can of worms.”
Senior skin becomes thinner over the years, making it susceptible to burns and lesions when strong acidic or caustic products are applied to remove skin annoyances, such as calluses or corns. The over-the-counter products can cause further damage or infection.
“It’s a waste of money to begin with,” Lo says. “Nothing like that will ever give seniors relief from pain.”
There are plenty of simple steps that can be taken to keep feet as healthy as possible, outside of the doctor’s office.
The most important rule: “Every one of us needs to keep our feet clean,” Lo says. Particularly for seniors, he says, soaking or washing feet at least a few times a week, but not enough to dry out the skin. Using a moisturizer after washing is key.
He also recommends cleaning under the nails, and trimming nails to an appropriate length to keep ingrown nails and bacteria at bay. Lo recommends asking a family member to maintain the feet once a week or more, because loss of eyesight and ability to reach toes often becomes a problem for seniors. If family isn’t an option, a doctor or foot care specialist should be contacted.
The Grand Forks Senior Center and the East Grand Forks Senior Center have foot care clinics available for area seniors. Appointments can be made with nurses who are equipped to handle daily upkeep and specific questions. Contact the Grand Forks Senior Center at 701-772-7245 or the East Grand Forks Senior Center at 218-773-0821 for more information.
Having a family member, doctor or specialist conduct a review of the feet will help in the early detection of issues, including the presence of scabs, scratches, discoloration or infection.
Lo says foot care is nothing to put at the bottom of a to-do list. If there’s a change in the foot, a new pain or discoloration, at least make an appointment with a primary care doctor.
“Things out of the ordinary? Look for help,” he says. “Pain is pain.”
- 75 percent of Americans experience serious foot problems
- All foot pain is considered a health concern
- Women have about four times as many foot problems as men
- Neglect, ill-fitting shoes and improper care cause most feet problems
- Income and foot health are directly related; increased income decreases foot issues
- About 5 percent of Americans visit a podiatric physician each year
- About 19 percent of Americans have an average of 1.4 foot problems each year
- Feet have 25 percent of all bones in the body
- Walking is the best exercise for feet to improve circulation and control weight
- Feet mirror general health, so minor aches and pains could be a sign of other health issues
Source: Grand Forks Herald | Not Affiliated with Aetrex Worldwide