Our Forgotten Friends: The Importance of Foot Care for Older Adults Over 65
We all get older and so do our feet. Aging can create new problems where before our feet were our steady but neglected companions. Learn the importance of foot and nail health and what you can do today to promote aging well.
Relying on our feet to get us where we’re going is a no-brainer, right?
For most of us, our feet have always been there for us. But as we age, maintaining optimal foot health becomes a necessity, not a luxury.
Feet are easy to overlook. They aren’t in view every day like our faces or fingernails.
Unattended, older feet can become a health hazard.
In fact, regular foot care is the foundation for remaining independent and fall-free.
How feet age
Fat pads thin, exposing bones to more friction. This can cause callouses, corns, and non-healing wounds or tender spots.
Tendons relax, leading to painful areas in the middle of the foot and heel region, otherwise known as plantar fasciitis. In addition, bones can become misaligned. For example, bunions can form at the base of the big toe.
Toenails thicken, becoming more difficult to trim over time. Left unattended, they can grow at odd angles, causing wounds and pain to adjacent skin.
Sweat and oil glands shrink with age. As a result, the skin on the feet becomes especially dry.
Believe it or not, feet grow with age. An older adult may not wear the same size they wore years ago.
With some chronic medical conditions, you can develop a loss of sensation due to nerve damage. Then, you may not feel pain that alerts you to wounds or a foreign object.
Common age-related foot problems
Nails can thicken, curve oddly, and can actually crumble when trimmed. Nails, especially on the big toes, can become discolored or lift off from the nail bed.
Ingrown nails are painfully commonplace.
Heel cracks and fissures due to dry skin develop over time. These conditions are common for those with diabetes or obesity.
Corns occur on areas of the feet that receive repeated friction.
Calluses form as the skin thickens to protect bony areas.
Athlete’s foot, a common fungal infection, happens when feet are not dried sufficiently after bathing and then placed in a shoe all day.
Fungal nail infections are often attributed to genetic tendencies and increase with age.
One person can have any or all these issues. Some foot conditions can inhibit the simple and necessary act of walking. So, why do older adults often forget about, or simply sidestep, the well-being of these foundational friends?
Barriers to routine foot care
Getting older often means it becomes harder to care for feet. We can lose the flexibility to reach them, even if we want to.
Hand dexterity and strength decline, making clipping difficult.
A larger belly gets in the way of basic breathing while bending.
Balancing ourselves while tending to foot and nail care can be quite a trick.
Often, pride can get in the way of asking family or friends for routine assistance.
Why care about foot care?
As you age, you can no longer ignore the well-being of your feet. They are a ticket to remaining independent.
There is a statistical correlation between poor foot health and falling. Discomfort or pain in one or both feet will eventually result in less physical activity. Wounds, infections, and untreated pain directly affect the ability to maintain quality of life.
There are actions you can start today to impact your foot health.
Strategies for senior foot self-care
- Dry your feet thoroughly after bathing, including between all toes.
- Lotion feet daily.
- Trim toenails straight across (not in a curve) every 6-8 weeks, depending on the rate of growth.
- Get your foot sized to get a correct and comfortable shoe fit.
- Wear breathable, moisture-wicking socks that get changed daily.
- Check your feet before bed for any new wounds, redness, tender spots, or nail changes. Don’t forget to look between each toe.
- If you notice any concerning issues, develop pain, or are unable to manage foot care yourself, tell your primary care provider. Talk to them about the services of a foot care nurse or podiatrist.
- Nail salons are NOT recommended unless your feet have no issues, and you have no chronic medical conditions.
Make foot care a priority. A lifetime of walking and running, working and playing has put a strain on these forgotten friends…your feet. By becoming aware of the importance of daily foot care, you may have a better chance of skipping independently into older age with better overall health and wellness.
Key takeaways :
- The health of older feet is easily overlooked.
- There are age-specific changes to older feet and associated conditions that can affect quality of life for seniors.
- Specific barriers keep older adults from doing routine foot care.
- Learning the importance of foot and nail health and how to embrace self-care may keep older adults safer and more active.
1. International Journal of Caring Sciences. Determination of foot health problems, foot care knowledge and behavior in older people.
2. Journal of Foot and Ankle Research. Feet are second-class citizens.
3. Journal of Foot and Ankle Research. Challenges of foot self-care in older people.
Delta Waters, RN writes content to support older adults in living their best lives.