Early detection key in preventing foot and ankle complications for seniors

Foot and ankle screening at the Senior Health Fair
A senior receives a foot and ankle screening to detect potential issues at Senior Health Fair.

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

Look for areas of redness or other discoloration. Check between the toes and around the nails to make sure there is not drainage, redness or anything that looks like a rash or whitish tissue. If nails are thick, they can create pressure on the underlying nail bed and cause sores. If you notice increased swelling of the feet or legs or areas of discoloration — which may be red, blue or brown — this is a possible sign of an underlying problem.

Pay attention to calloused areas. These are areas that are experiencing increased pressure or friction. If this continues, a sore can occur. If there is any dark discoloration under or around the callous, this 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 to aid in healing and prevent infection.

Pay attention to what you are feeling

If you have trouble walking any distance before you experience cramping in your legs, consult your podiatrist or family physician immediately. This can be a sign of poor circulation. If you don’t have very good feeling, this 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.

Make sure you are in the right size and style of shoe

If you have foot deformities such as bunions or hammertoes, make sure that your shoes do not rub or put constant pressure on these areas. Shoes should be supportive and have a wide, tall toe box to prevent pain and sores. Many people wear shoes that are too small. Your feet will become longer over time as the soft tissues relax and your arch starts to collapse. Make sure there is approximately a thumb’s width from the tip of your longest toe to the end of the shoe. The right shoe, and possibly an appropriate insert in the shoe, can help to disperse the pressure and decrease pain from many deformities, including hammertoes, flat feet and arthritis.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding your foot and lower leg health, it is important to visit with a foot and ankle specialist. They can identify areas of possible concerns and give you specific recommendations based on your medical history and physical exam findings to help prevent further complications. The goal is to try to keep you walking and keep your lower legs and feet as healthy as possible.

Disclaimer: This content is created for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

Mindi Feilmeier

Mindi Feilmeier, D.P.M., FACFAS, is a podiatrist at Des Moines University Foot and Ankle and an assistant professor in the College of Podiatric Medicine and Surgery.

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