January 7, 2011
While foot problems are certainly prevalent in every age group in society, there is one group of people that is at especially high risk for foot issues: the elderly. Mobility is crucial to independence later in life, making foot health is of the utmost importance. According to the APMA, “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.” So it is especially important for elderly people to take in active role in maintaining healthy feet.
As you might suspect, years and years of normal wear and tear on the feet can eventually take their toll. Some of the most common foot related conditions that affect elderly people are:
Neuropathy (Circulation problems): Neuropathy refers to nervous system damage resulting in loss of feeling in the feet. Since patients suffering from neuropathy can’t feel pain or discomfort, they sometimes fail to notice the severity of injuries or irritations on the feet. Also, poor circulation makes the healing process more difficult. While there is no cure for neuropathy, per se, getting regular foot check ups from a doctor is key in order to restore health to the foot and prevent further complications.
Neuropathy sufferers need shoes that have a wide toe box, ample cushioning for the balls of the feet and proper heel support. Shoes that accommodate swelling and have room for custom inserts are ideal.
Loss of fatty pad under the ball of foot: Elderly people often experience a loss of the fatty pad under the ball of the foot, making them much more susceptible to pain in that area. This condition, known as metatarsalgia typically has a gradual onset as it is the result of microtrauma and takes a while to add up into an injury. This pain is often a dull ache, much like a bruise.
Elderly people, or anyone suffering from pain the ball of the foot region, should look for shoes with a high, wide toe box and that offer some forefront cushioning. Those suffering from metatasalgia would also be great candidates for rocker sole shoes, since they reduce stress of the ball of the foot. Over-the-counter arch supports can work wonders for metatarsalgia by helping to transfer the weight off of the ball of the foot. Also, there are forefoot pads that can be added directly to the arch support that can provide more relief. If those methods do not provide enough relief, it may be necessary to look into custom orthotics to correct a biomechanical problem of the foot.
Corns & Calluses: Corns and calluses are painful thickenings that form in the skin in areas of pressure. While they are a common complaint of elderly people, they are also found among the general population, especially among high heel wearers. Calluses tend to form on the soles of the feet, at the heels or the balls. Corns are smaller and have a hard center. They tend to be found on the tops and sides of the toes, and other areas that do not bear weight. They are typically painful to the touch.
Corns and calluses can cause discomfort, but they can often be treated by just identifying the source of the friction and eliminating it. Anyone with calluses or corns should be sure to wear shoes that give the toes plenty of wiggle room. And it is a good idea to have shoes stretched if there are any spots that rub or pinch the feet. Shoes stores like SHOES-n-FEET are happy to help with this. If there is an underlying foot deformity causing the corns and calluses, your doctor may prescribe custom orthotics to wear inside your shoes.
Drop Foot (or Foot Drop): Drop foot is a term used to describe difficulty lifting the front part of the foot. It typically affects just one of the feet. Someone who suffers from drop foot may drag the affected foot on the ground or slap it down as they walk, causing instability. The causes of drop foot can be neurologic, muscular, or anatomic and podiatrists’ treatment of drop foot varies depending on the underlying cause.
A common treatment is for a podiatrist to fit the patient with a light-weight ankle stabilizing foot brace. Patients should take it with them to the shoe store to make sure they find a shoe that can accommodate this brace.
The APMA recommends that elderly people check their feet every day and consult a podiatrist if redness, swelling, cracks or sores are found. Also, elderly people should have their feet examined by a professional twice a year. Since foot health can reflect overall body health, it is especially important for the elderly to take special care to ensure their feet are healthy.
Photo Credit: Hygene Matters