As we age, our feet flatten and become wider and the fatty padding wears down, leaving bones and joints more exposed to wear and tear.
Injuries can occur from a simple blister to bunions and calluses, and conditions such as neuropathy, ingrown toenails and skin breaks can compromise other health conditions. Foot disorders can lead to a diminishing gait and a potential fall risk in people with Alzheimer’s, which is why proper foot care is important.
Since most people with Alzheimer’s cannot say if they are experiencing foot discomfort, the caregiver should be observant for any changes in physical or emotional well-being. They should watch for problems in walking — does he or she seem unsteady, walking more slowly or even shuffling while walking?
Since skin on the feet becomes more fragile with aging, bunions, corns and calluses can form, as well as ingrown toenails or fungal infections. These conditions can cause soreness and discomfort, making the affected person reluctant to walk.
If the person with Alzheimer’s is also a diabetic, the caregiver should be vigilant in proper foot care because even a small cut can lead to a severe infection which could become very serious.
Often, older adults and affected individuals are inclined to wear slippers all day, which encourages shuffling rather than walking and can contributed to slips and falls. Comfortable, well-fitting shoes can make all the difference in the affected person’s mobility, so a good pair of walking shoes that are precisely measured and fitted are recommended.
Caregivers can make a regular habit of washing their loved one’s feet nightly with warm soap and water, drying them thoroughly, applying moisturizer and finishing by covering the feet with breathable cotton socks for comfort and warmth. This practice can promote relaxation prior to sleep.
Toenails should be kept trimmed. If that causes fear or anxiety, the caregiver can try creating a spa-like environment, using lavender aromas, soft music and possibly giving something to the affected person to distract him or her. If the caregiver is uncomfortable or is having difficulty trimming toenails, he or she can go to a local nail care clinic that specializes in caring for senior feet or seek a podiatrist that offers these types of services.
Lastly, caregivers should monitor any foot sores. The heels are a common location for bedsores because the affected individuals are resting their feet on a footstool, mattress or other surface that leads to tissue breakdown from skin irritation and pressure on the heels. To prevent this type of condition, caregivers can prop the ankles on a foot rest so that the heels of the feet are not touching anything.
Serious foot conditions call for a visit to the podiatrist or primary care physician.