Foot pain and foot disorders are common complaints among older people. Foot pain makes it harder to walk and carry out your daily functions. You may also have trouble with your balance and your chance of falling increases. But just because you are getting older, you do not have to put up with foot pain. Being able to walk easily is extremely important, since walking is one of the best ways to exercise and keep fit.
One of the main causes of foot problems is poor-fitting shoes. Three out of four people over the age of 65 wear shoes that are too small. Narrow or high heeled shoes, shoes with slippery soles, or ones that offer no protection or support may cause serious injury and pain, and increase your chance of a fall.
Most foot problems can be treated effectively. A qualified healthcare professional who specializes in the feet—known as a podiatrist (in Malta may be referred to as a Podologist)—can diagnose your condition and choose the appropriate treatment. Often a change in footwear will do the trick. You do not have to suffer needlessly.
Basic foot care and prompt attention from a podiatrist if you find a problem will help keep you active and independent.
What are Foot Problems in the Elderly?
Decades of standing changes your feet. Much of the natural cushion of padding under your heel and the ball of your foot is lost. The arches get flatter and less flexible, your ankles and foot joints become stiffer, and your whole foot gets wider and longer.
Because of these changes, you may develop foot pain and other problems even if you never had difficulties with your feet before.
Certain medical conditions put you at greater risk of foot problems. For example, diabetes can cause reduced blood circulation and nerve damage in the feet.
The Most Common Types of Foot Problems
In older adults, the foot complaints encountered most often are:
Some other foot problems that are less common but may be encountered among older people include:
How common are Foot Problems?
One in three people over the age of 65 has foot pain, stiffness, or aching feet. Older people who are living in long-term care facilities tend to have even higher rates of foot problems. In the United States, up to 87% of people have painful feet at some time in their lives, no statistics exist for Malta but the percentage is considered to be similarly very high. Most of these problems derive from poorly fitting shoes, such as pointy-toed high-heeled women’s shoes. Older or obese people, women, and people with diabetes, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, knee, hip or back pain have much higher rates of foot problems. For women, pain in the toes and ball of the foot is much more common than in men, and it gets worse with age. However, pain in the heel tends to decrease as we get older.
Older people are more likely to have foot pain if they also have a chronic disease. Foot pain in younger people tends to come from aching muscles and stress on bones. In older people, pain most often comes from corns, calluses and toe deformities, of which 75% are bunions. As much as one third of all older people have a bunion. About 30% of older people with foot pain have calluses and about 15% have corns on their toes.
It has been estimated that one-third of all older people have fungal infections in a toenail. The likelihood of having a fungus infection is even higher in older people with diabetes, psoriasis, reduced immunity, poor circulation, or obesity.
Lifestyle & Management
To maintain healthy feet, follow the recommendations listed below:
Diet and Exercise
If you have diabetes, the health of your feet depends a great deal on how well you can control your blood sugar. A healthy diet is crucial. Follow your dietician or healthcare professional’s recommendations and eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, complex carbohydrates rather than refined foods and sweets, and low-fat proteins. Make sure your fluid intake is adequate. Remember to take your medications at the right times if prescribed.
Regular, gentle low-impact exercise—especially walking, stretching, swimming and bicycling—will help keep the muscles, tendons, and ligaments of your feet flexible and healthy.
Foot problems can lead to:
If you are a caregiver or family member looking after an older patient, you need to know how to do an adequate daily foot inspection, particularly for patients with diabetes, poor circulation, foot numbness, poor eyesight, or immune deficiency diseases. A podiatrist can show you what to look for and how to take care of minor problems and perform general foot care such as nail trimming for the elderly patient.