Foot care is important for everyone, but it’s more important when we begin to age because there’s been more wear and tear on the feet. As humans, we take a lot of steps in our lifetime and our feet carry our weight, literally. There are patients whose footcare is a necessary routine like taking medication and neglecting foot care can be as detrimental as not taking meds when they are prescribed to be taken. These patients are those who have diabetes.
Our foot health declines more the older we get. There are several reasons why older feet seem to have more medical problems. In our years walking this earth we work, we run, we jump, we play sports, we dance, we spend a lot of our lives on our feet and a lot of will incur an injury or two on these feet we have.
When we’re young, we tend to purchase our shoes for their aesthetic appeal rather than their comfort and sensibility. Men are less apt to buy a shoe that just looks good. This is something multitudes of women do and have done through many ages. Those six-inch stilettos don’t seem like such a good idea once the golden year foot problems begin to creep in.
Poor lower extremity circulation is another culprit when it comes to being the catalyst for painful foot problems. If the blood cannot properly circulate to the feet, ulcers can easily become an issue (especially if the patient is a diabetic).
The risk for foot problems increases when underlying diseases are present that can have a directly negative impact on the health of the feet. Diabetes is one of the top culprits. A gout is a common form of arthritis that is a bit complex and can cause deformities in the feet that often require surgery to correct.
Heart disease and peripheral arterial disease harm the circulation of blood to the lower extremities of the body, thus limiting the mobility of the feet and elevating the risk for ulcers, necrosis, and other dangerous conditions. Additionally, the feet will not heal from an injury as good if heart diseases are present.
One of the biggest problems for older diabetic adults can seem like one of the simplest tasks. Because of a lack of flexibility and mobility, many of our aged loved ones cannot properly trim their toenails. Poor vision also impedes the ability to see the toenails and be sure to not trim them too deeply into the nail bed. If the nails are trimmed too far down, it can result in an ingrown toenail. In elderly diabetic patients, this can cause a swift onset of infection that can end with gangrene.
If foot care problems go untreated in our aged loved ones, they can lead to worsened conditions and increasingly dangerous issues such as horrifying infections (like gangrene), the mobility that is impeded to the point of falls, and sometimes amputation is the only answer to resolve the issues in the foot/feet. Nonsurgical options are always the best for elderly patients, but sometimes surgery is the only option.
Why All Foot Problems Can Be a Danger to Diabetics
The feet of diabetic patients are target zones for infection if they are not properly cared for and taken care of. This goes beyond a simple pedicure. If a patient’s sugar is too high then there is a strong chance that neuropathy will become an issue.
Decreased feeling in the feet from neuropathy can result in diabetic patients having a complete loss of the ability to feel pain if there are existing problems with the feet and toes. If cracks in the heels, ulcers, or other sores go untreated a breeding ground for infection quickly evolves.
Several foot problems tend to wreak havoc on the elderly foot. Some of the problems include diabetic ulcers, arthritis pain, pain from gout, curled toes, arches that have fallen and caused flat feet, corns and calluses, ingrown toenails as a result of improperly trimmed nail beds, and fungal infections. The two most critical problems are foot ulcers and ingrown toenails.
Where are the Dangers of Diabetic Foot Ulcers and Ingrown Toenails?
Diabetes can cause peripheral neuropathy. Because neuropathy hinders the patient’s ability to feel any pain or discomfort in their feet, it’s not uncommon for different types of ulcers to form without the patient realizing a problem even exists.
Decreases in blood flow are normal as we age, but if there are underlying conditions the circulation is worse. The poor circulation can cause any cuts, sores, ulcerations, or incisions to heal far slower. This often results in a wound being stubborn and/or chronic.
A foot ulcer is a red crater that forms on the foot. It is usually on any of the “balls” of the feet such as the heel or the area below the big toe. A shallow hole can form in the middle of the crater, or the depth can reach to the bone in the foot. These ulcers generally occur due to the skin wearing down in that area, thus leaving tissue exposed.
The open sore that results become chronic, recurring, and stubborn in most diabetic seniors. When this happens, wound care management is essential in the effort for the reduction of infection risk if the wound is not already experiencing signs and symptoms of infection.
Signs and Symptoms of Diabetic Foot Ulcers
One of the sure signs that there is an underlying issue of foot ulcers is the constant appearance of corns and calluses in the same area. If the spot bleeds or weeps, this is not only likely the beginning stage of an ulcer but it is also a breeding ground for infection. Redness and swelling with an odor may be present as well.
If the signs and symptoms early onset are not recognized or they go neglected, gangrene or necrosis (death of the tissue) can set in and the tissue will turn black in the region of the ulcer. The associated odor will be the noxious smell of the tissue rotting.
Additional Risk Factors for Diabetic Patients
Several factors can increase the risk of a diabetic patient developing an ulcer. First and foremost, if a patient’s sugar is out of control and they are either overweight or obesity is an issue he/she should be encouraged to try to lose weight.
It’s no secret that elderly patients can be set in their ways and push back on lifestyle changes. Finding a way to let your loved one know that their weight and diabetes can cause them some serious problems with their feet is advised.
Foot hygiene is important for everyone, but if a diabetic patient is not managing the health status of their feet they are leaving themselves prone to foot ulcers and infection. When a patient cannot safely perform their care for their feet and toenails, a medical pedicure should be sought. A salon pedicure is not a medical pedicure, and it is discouraged when it comes to getting a salon pedicure due to the risk of infection.
Several other factors can affect the risk of foot ulcers. Drinking alcohol and smoking habitually will far more than likely cause a wound that will not heal if a foot ulcer occurs. Wearing poor quality shoes and/or shoes that don’t fit right and squeeze the foot create a prime location for an ulcer because the shoes squeeze and rub on the feet.
Why Your Podiatrist is Essential in Saving You from a Diabetic Foot Ulcer Crisis
Your podiatrist will check your feet every time you go for an office visit. If neuropathy is an issue in the patient, the podiatrist may discover problematic areas in the foot that the patient had no idea were there.
Your podiatrist can identify and treat any danger zone that is throwing visual cues on your feet to keep you from becoming dangerously ill or having to battle through a lower extremity amputation. Your podiatrist isn’t “just the foot doctor” because your feet need to be imperatively happy for you to function properly on many levels of your everyday life.
Ingrown Toenails can Cause Amputation
Diabetics should not be performing pedicures on themselves, especially aged diabetics. Limited vision and impaired mobility can hinder the ability to tend to the health of the feet. If there have already been problems with foot ulcers, foot care should be set up for the patient regularly. A caregiver should be inspecting the patient’s feet daily.
Diabetic toenails should never be trimmed or filed in a curved shape, they must be trimmed straight across. If the nail is trimmed too close to, or too deep in, the nail bed an ingrown toenail is very likely to occur. If a diabetic gets the slightest nick or cut in the nailbed the likelihood of infections setting in is almost inevitable. Gangrene can set in at an alarmingly fast rate especially if there are pre-existing circulation issues. Ingrown toenails have been the catalyst for amputation of the toe, and even the foot, if they are not tended to in an emergent manner.
Your Podiatrist May Save Your Life
Podiatrists and wound care specialists are essential in the battle against limb and life loss as a result of diabetic foot ulcer complications and other foot wounds and conditions. Your podiatrist will help you keep your feet healthy because they are important to your longevity and quality of life. Pamper them regularly and keep them happy and they will carry you far through your life.