Geriatric Foot Care

What is geriatric foot care?

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Feet require extra care as we age. Throughout the course of a lifetime, we stand, walk, and run our feet into extremely poor shape. Seniors’ feet are weaker and, consequently, more prone to injury. Simple geriatric foot care can mitigate some of those injuries. Geriatric foot care can include strategies like changing your footwear, cutting your toenails regularly, and/or adjusting your diet.

Why is geriatric foot care necessary?

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Geriatric foot care can support many other health conditions. Seniors need to take care of their feet because:

  • Seniors tend to experience reduced blood flow, which can slow down the healing process for foot wounds or sores.
  • Foot injuries can impact balance and mobility, leading to falls or other threats to seniors’ health. Smaller injuries, even an ingrown toenail, can lead to falls and severe health issues.
  • Foot care can help with foot pain management or prevention.
  • Feet can also show early signs of other systemic conditions, like diabetes or kidney damage. Taking care of your feet and regularly seeing a podiatrist can help you with an early diagnosis.

Seniors need to take care of their feet. In the following sections, we will describe how to address some common geriatric foot issues, like loss of cushioning on feet over time, geriatric foot pain, ingrown toenails, toenail fungus, and loss of bone density.

How should you address loss of cushioning on your feet over time?

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In its most severe form, this condition is called fat pad atrophy or heel pad syndrome. It refers to the gradual loss of the fat pad in the heel or ball of the foot. The heel pad is a thick layer of tissue on the sole of the foot. This pad absorbs shock, distributes body weight, and helps protect bones and joints.

Your body loses valuable support as those pads lose cushioning over time. Fat pad atrophy and heel pad syndrome might present as intense or sudden pain, redness, or swelling in the foot. Contact a doctor if you experience any of these symptoms, or if you cannot walk from the pain or swelling. Fat pad atrophy and heel pad syndrome are typically treated with rest, icing, over-the-counter pain medications, night splints, or heel lifts.

Avoid extreme pain and swelling due to loss of cushioning on your feet by using some of these strategies:

  • Wear properly fitted and supportive shoes
  • Stretch before exercising
  • Adjust your physical activity to match your energy and ability
  • Make sure to rest if you are sore

How should you address geriatric foot pain?

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Foot pain is not normal, and it can indicate several different health conditions. It can present as pain in the heel, ball, arch, or toes. If you experience foot pain, you should see a podiatrist as soon as possible.

Schedule regular podiatrist appointments to maintain good foot health. If you have a caregiver, ask that they do routine foot examinations as part of your foot care.

Avoid geriatric pain by introducing some of these maintenance practices into your foot care routine:

  • Add light walking and stretching to your regular routine
  • Consider an anti-inflammatory diet, or change your diet to reduce inflammatory foods
  • Use supportive stockings to alleviate foot pain
  • Talk to your podiatrist about a physical therapy referral
  • Look into orthotics for more supportive footwear

How should you address ingrown toenails?

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An ingrown toenail is when a piece of sharp nail grows into the skin next to the nail. It occurs most often on the big toe. Ingrown toenails are largely treatable at home, but some ingrown toenails require professional medical care. People who have diabetes or other conditions that cause poor circulation are at increased risk of health complications from an ingrown toenail.

If there is any sign of infection, like redness, swelling, pus, or warmth, contact a doctor.

At-home treatment for non-infectious ingrown toenails includes over-the-counter pain medications, steroid cream or a topical antibiotics like neomycin to reduce risk of infection, cotton ball soaked in olive oil to gently push skin away from the toenail, or a warm water soak for 15-20 minutes three to four times per day.

Avoid ingrown toenails through regular toenail maintenance:

  • Trim your toenails regularly.
  • Cut your toenails and file the nails straight across, then round the edges of the nails.
  • If you have a condition that affects your feet, like diabetes, ask your podiatrist about toenail-cutting services.

How should you address toenail fungus?

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A toenail fungal infection is an overgrowth of fungi in, under, or on the nail. Toenail fungus derives from the same fungi that cause ringworm, athlete’s foot, and jock itch. Fungal infections can take a while to fully develop, so initial symptoms or developments are easy to miss. Poor circulation can increase risk of toenail fungus, so seniors and people with diabetes are at higher risk of developing the condition.

There are a few different types of infections that present similarly to a fungal toenail infection. Seeing a doctor for a definitive diagnosis is the only way to know what type of infection it is for sure. To that end, treatment for toenail fungus should not be over-the-counter, as those products do not produce consistent results. Doctors will usually recommend an oral antifungal medication, like fluconazole (Diflucan), terbinafine (Lamisil), griseofulvin (Gris-PEG), or itraconazole (Sporanox). Treatment might also include antifungal topical solutions or nail lacquer.

Avoid toenail fungus by using these simple foot care strategies:

  • Keep toenails clean and well-trimmed
  • Make sure your feet are dry after showering, specifically between the toes
  • Wear shoes in public spaces
  • Get pedicures and other foot services from places that clean their tools correctly

How should you address loss of bone density in the feet?

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Bones change over time. Old bone breaks down and new bone replaces it. Younger bodies are able to make new bone faster than the old bone breaks down, so bone mass increases. Older bodies take a longer time to generate new bone, so bone mass typically decreases. Osteoporosis is a bone disease in which the bones become brittle, weak, and easy to break. Seniors with osteoporosis might be at higher risk of falling and becoming injured.

Fractures and other bone injuries can severely impact senior’s health and quality of life. An emphasis on bone health could prevent future health complications. Contact your doctor and see if they would recommend a bone density test. If you have a high rate of bone loss, your doctor might prescribe a medication to help reduce the rate of bone loss.

Avoid the more extreme effects of bone density loss with these foot care tips:

  • Add physical activity to your routine (e.g. walking, jogging, and climbing stairs)
  • Increase amount of calcium in your diet (e.g. dairy, kale, almonds, and broccoli)
  • Increase amount of vitamin D in your diet (e.g. fish, eggs, and mushrooms)

When should you start geriatric foot care?

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Our feet bear the brunt of our physical activity. It is likely never too early to start a foot care routine. Changing you footwear is a simple foot care strategy you can start today. Make sure you wear properly-fitting, comfortable shoes that fit the level and style of activity. See a podiatrist if you develop any foot pain or unusual symptoms. If you are over the age of 50 or have other health conditions, you should consider visiting a podiatrist regularly.

Why should seniors visit a podiatrist regularly?

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Seniors are more prone to infections and injuries, which can often go unnoticed or ignored in the feet. A podiatrist might conduct different tests or take X-rays to determine a diagnosis. Visiting a podiatrist can help diagnose and treat a condition that could drastically improve your quality of life.

Even though many foot conditions are not necessarily life-threatening as a standalone diagnosis, improper treatment or an existing condition could exacerbate their development. Staying up to date on podiatrist appointments might help you avoid serious health complications.