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Ohio Department of Aging Aging Connection - April 2010

Aging Connection

CONNECT TO | Health & Wellness
April 2010

Preventive Foot Care
Keeping Older Adults on Their Feet

The average person will put several hundred tons of pressure on his feet in a normal day of walking and will walk the equivalent of five times around the Earth in his lifetime. Is it any wonder why our feet are more subject to injury than any other part of our bodies?

Preventive foot care

Foot ailments are among the most common of our health problems. Many people, including a lot of older people, wrongly believe that it is normal for their feet to hurt, but even among people in their retirement years, many foot problems can be treated successfully and the pain of foot ailments relieved.

Normal wear and tear causes changes in feet. As individuals 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. The skin and nails of the feet frequently become dry and brittle as people age, and numbness and discoloration can occur. These may be the first signs of such serious conditions as diabetes, arthritis or circulatory disease. Foot problems also can lead to knee, hip and lower back pain and undermine mobility. According to the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, impairment of the lower extremities is a leading cause of activity limitation in older people.

For older people to live full, satisfying lives, they must be able to move around. Foot ailments can make it difficult or impossible for them to work or to participate in social activities. Preventive foot care can increase an older person's comfort, improve or maintain mobility and independence, limit the possibility of additional medical problems, reduce the chances of hospitalization and lessen requirements for other institutional care.

The American Podiatric Medical Association offers these recommendations to keep feet healthy:

  • Don't ignore foot pain. If the pain persists, see a podiatric physician.
  • Inspect your feet regularly. Pay attention to changes in color and temperature of your feet. Look for thick or discolored nails and check for cracks or cuts in the skin.
  • Wash your feet regularly, especially between the toes, and be sure to dry them completely.
  • Trim toenails straight across, but not too short.
  • Make sure that your shoes fit properly. Purchase new shoes later in the day when feet tend to be at their largest, and replace worn out shoes as soon as possible.
  • Wear the right shoe for the activity that you are engaged in, such as running shoes for running.
  • Alternate shoes. Do not wear the same pair of shoes every day.
  • Avoid walking barefoot to prevent injury and infection. At the beach or when wearing sandals, always use sun block on your feet as well as the rest of your body.
  • Be cautious when using home remedies for foot ailments. Self-treatment often can turn a minor problem into a major one.
  • If you are a person with diabetes it is vital that you see a podiatric physician at least once a year for a check-up.

Foot ailments affect the quality of life and mobility of millions of Americans. Podiatrists can provide treatments in the office, your home, the hospital or a long-term care facility. Always consult your podiatrist when you have questions about foot conditions or what is covered by Medicare.

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