Mobility is a vital ingredient of independence, but foot ailments may make it difficult or impossible for seniors to work or participate socially. Most Americans log 75,000 miles on their feet by the time they reach 50 — and more active people reach the milestone sooner. Some foot problems can be traced to heredity, but most stem from the cumulative effects of neglect or abuse. Foot problems can also lead to pain in the knee, hip, and lower back that further undermines mobility. The good news is, pain can be relieved and many foot problems successfully treated.
The normal wear and tear of passing years causes changes in feet. As people age, feet tend to spread, and the fatty pads that cushion foot bottoms wear down. Additional weight burdens the bone and ligament structure. Older people should measure their feet more often, rather than assuming their shoe size remains constant. Dry skin and brittle nails are other conditions common to older people.
Preventive foot health care has many benefits. It can increase your comfort, limit additional medical problems, reduce chances of infection (and hospitalization), and keep you active and more independent.
- Keep walking! It’s the best thing you can do for feet and general health.
- Pay attention to your feet and ankles. Examine before and after walking. If you notice red spots, swelling, or other abnormalities, including numbness, tingling or burning, consult a podiatric physician as soon as possible.
- Walk on soft ground. With age, the natural shock absorbers (‘fat padding’) in your feet deteriorate, along with bone density, particularly in women. These factors make seniors prone to stress fractures. Softer ground produces less shock. If possible, walk on flat, even and well-manicured grass or dirt paths.
- Avoid walking in cold weather. Cold weather causes numbness, limiting your ability to detect trauma or wounds. It also makes surfaces harder, exerting undue shock on feet and ankles. Walk in a local mall or indoor track or exercise facility instead.
- If you have diabetes, use extra precaution. You are prone to infection from even minor injuries and may have loss of sensation in the feet, making them difficult to detect. Check your feet daily. If you experience any numbness, redness, tingling or have wounds or abnormalities of any kind, see a podiatric physician immediately.
- Exercise smart. Know your limits and exercise with caution to ward off injuries. Set appropriate, realistic goals. Choose an activity you like, pace yourself, increase exertion gradually, and pay attention to what your body, and your feet, tell you.