Seniors with Diabetes: The Importance of Foot Health


seniors-diabetes-foot-health

Posted by Dr. Scott Wilson | 01-Oct-2022

  • Diabetes can cause damaged nerves called diabetic neuropathy and reduced blood flow to the legs and feet in elderly individuals and can often lead to severe foot problems. 
  • Without proper foot care, wounds on your feet can turn into ulcers, gangrene or severe infections. Doctors often have to perform amputations of an injured toe, or foot to stop the infection.
  • Fortunately, diabetic seniors can manage their foot health and stop a foot injury from becoming a major health concern by following key foot health tips.

Diabetes is a chronic condition that often causes further serious health conditions for adults over the age of 65. This is due to the combined effects of increasing insulin resistance and impaired pancreatic islet function. While the risk of complications such as heart disease, nerve damage, vision loss and kidney disease are key considerations, foot heath often gets overlooked. However, when you consider that even a simple cut can result in a bad infection that sometimes requires surgery, the importance of foot health for seniors with diabetes can not be overstated. Here’s what you need to know to stay healthy and minimize your risk.

What Causes Foot Problems In Senior Diabetic Patients?

There are generally two main causes of foot problems for seniors with diabetes, nerve damage and poor blood flow. 

1. Nerve Damage

Diabetes can result in damage to the nerves in the legs and feet. This condition is referred to as diabetic neuropathy and can prevent the sufferer from feeling pain, heat, or cold in their feet. This lack of sensation can mean that minor cuts, infections, or blisters may go unnoticed and untreated, resulting in more serious conditions. Even small injuries to the feet, like those caused by poorly fitting shoes, can cause significant foot problems. 

2. Poor Blood Flow

Diabetes also severely affects blood flow to the legs and feet resulting in peripheral vascular disease. This reduced blood flow can slow or even prevent wounds from healing. This, in turn, can lead to more serious conditions including infection or gangrene. 

How Can Seniors With Diabetes Prevent Foot Problems?

  1. Inspect your feet every day
  2. Wash your feet regularly
  3. Trim your toenails
  4. Don’t remove corns or calluses yourself
  5. Never walk barefoot
  6. Protect your feet from extreme temperatures
  7. Ensure continued blood flow to your feet
  8. Perform feet-friendly physical activities
  9. Wear supportive shoes and socks
  10. Ensure frequent feet checkups

Foot health is critical for seniors suffering from diabetes. In order to avoid complications, such as a diabetic foot ulcer and foot infection, you should always be vigilant about your foot health. Here are some effective foot care tips that elderly diabetic patients can take to prevent foot problems and foot infections:

1. Inspect Your Feet Every Day:

It’s important to perform a thorough inspection of your feet on a daily basis. This includes checking between your toes and examining the soles of your feet. You want to ensure that there are no new or worsening foot problems, such as foot ulcers or foot infections. Even if you find something small like a cut, you should make note of it and let your doctor know as soon as possible.

2. Wash Your Feet Regularly:

As a diabetic, it’s essential that you keep your feet clean at all times. This means washing them regularly even if you haven’t been outside. Washing your feet helps to prevent infections that could lead to further foot health complications. When washing your feet, use lukewarm water rather than hot water. Also, make sure never to soak your feet as soaking can open up small cracks in the skin which might allow germs to enter. 

3. Trim Your Toenails: 

Untrimmed toenails can become rounded and grow inward. This often leads to complicated infections. When trimming your toenails, be careful to avoid any cuts or bruises. For elderly patients with diabetes, it’s often best to have someone do the trimming to reduce the risk of cuts or bruises. 

4. Don’t Remove Corns or Calluses Yourself:

If you happen to notice corns or calluses anywhere on your feet, never try to remove them yourself. This includes using a blade or an over-the-counter product. This could end up in a cut or burned skin, which could then lead to an infection. It’s best to see a Chiropodist or other health professional for the removal of corns or calluses.

5. Never Walk Barefoot: 

If you have diabetes, walking barefoot puts you at significant risk of sustaining a bruise, cut or other foot injuries that could easily go undetected until it becomes a more significant issue. Always wear shoes while stepping outside and be sure to wear slippers while indoors. As an added precaution, you should also be sure to check the inside of your shoes and slippers for pebbles or other objects before wearing them. 

6. Protect Feet From Extreme Temperatures: 

Extreme hot or cold temperatures can damage your feet. When your feet get too hot, sweat and moisture can lead to foot ulcers and infections. In cold temperatures, your feet can become dry and cracked which can also make them more susceptible to infection. 

7. Ensure Continued Blood Flow to Your Feet:

Ensuring continued blood flow to your feet is essential for ongoing foot health and healing. There are several foot exercises that elderly diabetic patients can perform to promote blood flow. One simple exercise is to put your feet up when sitting and wiggle your toes periodically. Of course, your Physiotherapist can provide other exercise recommendations as needed. 

8. Perform Feet-Friendly Physical Activities:

Elderly diabetic patients should avoid high-impact activities and focus instead on less tedious activities like brisk walking, water aerobics, yoga, or physical therapy to maintain and improve foot health. Working with a Physiotherapist is a great way to treat nerve damage and improve foot health through controlled physical activities that are custom-made based on your unique condition.  

9. Wear Supportive Shoes and Socks: 

Make sure that your shoes and socks are a correct fit and are not too tight on your feet. Tight socks can restrict blood flow and cause serious damage to your feet. Consulting a Chiropodist or other health professional about compression socks and custom orthotics could also help.

10. Ensure Frequent Feet Checkups:

Even if you don’t find any sort diabetic foot ulcer, infection or other foot problems during your regular daily inspections, make sure to visit your doctor for regular foot examinations. Your doctor can check for nerve damage, blood flow, and other key considerations related to your feet to ensure that your foot health is as it should be.  

Frequently Asked Questions On Diabetic Foot For Seniors

Q1: What causes foot ulcers in elderly diabetic patients?

Answer: Elderly patients who have had diabetes for many years, often tend to have a reduced or complete loss of sensation in their feet. They may be unable to identify pain caused by cuts, bruises, or infections which can lead to ulcers. Some of the other main causes of foot ulcers in older people include:

  • Poor blood circulation to the feet
  • Nerve damage
  • High blood sugar (hyperglycemia)
  • Infected or wounded feet

Q2: When Is Limb Amputation required?

Answer: In cases of elderly diabetic patients, healing will not occur in the presence of devitalized tissues or poor vascularity, even with aggressive antimicrobial therapy. Amputation can therefore be necessary to help eliminate the spread of infections to other body parts and to save the life of a patient. 

Q3: How can I monitor the progression of diabetic complications?

Answer: To identify diabetic complications at the earliest stage you must:

  1. Test your urine and get a dilated eye checkup at least once every year. 
  2. Visit the doctor more frequently if you have experienced blurred vision in one eye or blind spots or have a history of eye diseases. 
  3. Ensure your blood pressure is less than 130/80 as high blood pressure can make your body more vulnerable to kidney diseases.
  4. Have your feet checked regularly for any sort of injuries or deformities, and report anything you find to your doctor immediately.

Conclusion

For seniors suffering from diabetes, maintaining optimal foot health is essential for reducing the risk of significant health complications. However, with vigilance, discipline and support from some dedicated health professionals, you can effectively help to reduce your risk and continue enjoying a high quality of life for years to come. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with diabetes, contact us today and let us show you why, at Physiomed, Healthier Starts Here.


Dr. Scott Wilson

Dr. Scott Wilson is the Founder & Chairman of Physiomed; one of Canada’s largest franchised networks of inter-disciplinary healthcare clinics. A graduate of Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College, Dr. Wilson founded Physiomed in 1994 and has since grown Physiomed to over 30 clinics in Southern Ontario and British Columbia. With hundreds of practitioners from over a dozen disciplines, Dr. Wilson and Physiomed have helped over 100,000 Canadians with physiotherapy, chiropractic, massage therapy, orthotic therapy, compression therapy and clinical conditioning as part of a program of rehabilitation and health optimization. In addition to helping patients improve their physical and mental well-being, Dr. Wilson has also mentored hundreds of practitioners to provide better care while enjoying more fulfilling careers. He is also a keynote speaker on many health related topics including how physiotherapy, chiropractic and health & wellness treatment can help with stress, weight loss, and unlocking the true potential within to achieve lasting physical well-being.

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