General Health Article:

Foot care can improve quality of life, forecast other conditions

Independence and mobility are major contributors to a satisfying life as we age, but foot ailments can make it difficult if not impossible for older adults to work or participate in daily activities that help keep them active and healthy.

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. Foot problems can lead to knee, hip and lower back pain that can also limit mobility. The NCHS says one-fourth of all nursing home patients cannot walk at all and one-sixth can walk only with assistance.

The human foot has been called the mirror of health. Foot doctors are often the first to see signs of such conditions as diabetes, arthritis and circulatory disease in the foot. Symptoms of concern are dry skin, brittle nails, burning and tingling sensations, cold, numbness and discoloration. Always seek professional care when these signs appear.

Most of the more than 300 foot ailments stem from the cumulative effects of years of normal wear and tear, which cause changes in the feet that require more frequent attention by older adults. Many foot problems can be treated successfully and the pain of foot ailments relieved.

Observing preventative foot care can increase comfort, limit additional medical problems, reduce the chance of infection and lessen the need for other institutional care.

The Healthy Aging Partnership, a coalition of more than 30 Puget Sound not-for-profit and public organizations dedicated to the health and well-being of older adults, offers these tips for proper foot care.

  • Wear properly fitted shoes. Don't assume your shoe size. Your feet change as you age. Have your feet measured before you buy new shoes.
  • Purchase shoes with a firm sole and a soft upper for daily activities.
  • Walking is the best exercise for your feet. In addition, daily physical activity is the key to good health as we age
  • Pantyhose or stockings should be the correct size. Do not wear constricting garters.
  • Bathe your feet daily in lukewarm water, using a mild soap and a moisturizer.
  • Trim or file your toenails straight across.
  • Inspect your feet every day. If you notice any redness, swelling, cracks in the skin or sores, consult your primary health care provider or a podiatrist.

If you have questions about your health or any other issue related to life as an older adult, call the Healthy Aging Partnership's free and confidential information and assistance line at 1-844-348-KING (1-844-348-5464). HAP is generously supported by its partner agencies, Public Health Seattle & King County and the Comprehensive Health Education Foundation.