Older adults are at increased risk for a variety of foot and ankle issues. Decreases in circulation and sensation, wounds, bunions, hammertoes, skin and nail disorders and degenerative joint disease are all common in the aging population. These conditions have a significant impact on quality of life.
The elderly are not only at a higher risk of foot and ankle problems, they also respond differently to the conditions. Without early detection, a foot and ankle issue can quickly turn into an infection or circulatory, neurologic and mechanical issues. Here are few keys to spot problems early and keep your feet healthy.
Check your feet and legs daily
Inspect your lower limbs every day for areas of redness or discoloration. Swelling and areas of discoloration – which may be red, blue or brown –is a possible sign of an underlying problem. Check between the toes and around the nails to make sure there is not drainage, redness, rash or whitish tissue. If nails are thick, they can create pressure on the underlying nail bed and cause sores.
Pay attention to calloused areas. These are areas experiencing increased pressure or friction, which can lead to sores. Dark discoloration under or around the callous is a sign of further skin breakdown and may lead to an open wound and infection. If you have a cut or wound that does not heal in a timely manner, consult your physician immediately.
Pay attention to what you are feeling
If you have trouble walking any distance before you experience cramping in your legs, this can be a sign of poor circulation. If you don’t have very good feeling, it can prevent you from noticing issues when they arrive, so it is important to look at your feet and have them assessed at appropriate intervals by a podiatrist.
Find the right size and style of shoe
Shoes should be supportive and have a wide, tall toe box to prevent pain and sores. Make sure they do not rub or put constant pressure on bunions or hammertoes. Many people wear shoes that are too small. There should be approximately a thumb’s width from the tip of your longest toe to the end of the shoe.
If you have any concerns regarding your foot and lower leg health, a foot and ankle specialist can identify areas of possible concerns and give you specific recommendations. The goal is to try to keep you walking and keep your lower legs and feet as healthy as possible.
Mindi Feilmeier is a podiatrist at Des Moines University Foot and Ankle and an assistant professor in the College of Podiatric Medicine and Surgery (CPMS) at DMU. Paul Dayton is a podiatrist at UnityPoint Foot and Ankle and Trinity Regional Medical Center in Fort Dodge and an assistant professor for CPMS.