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Stege's Podiatric Topics

Foot Health and Aging


Foot Health and Aging

The health sciences have progressed so rapidly since 1900 that life expectancy of the average American has increased by about 27 years. Older persons have become an increasingly significant proportion of our total population, and their numbers are growing rapidly. In 1900, for example, there were three million Americans aged 65 or older. In 1995 this figure exceeded 33 million.

If older people are to live useful, satisfying lives, they must be able to move about. Mobility is a vital ingredient of the independence that older people cherish, and foot ailments make it difficult or impossible for them to work or to participate in social activities.

According to the US National Center for Health Statistics, impairment of the lower extremities is a leading cause of activity limitation in older people. As if foot problems weren't enough of a nuisance, they can also lead to knee, hip, and lower back pain that undermine mobility just as effectively. The NCHS says one-fourth of all nursing home patients cannot walk at all and another one-sixth can walk only with assistance.

Mirror of Health

The human foot has been called the mirror of health. Foot doctors, or doctors of podiatric medicine (DPMs), are often the first doctors to see signs of such systemic conditions as diabetes, arthritis, and circulatory disease in the foot. Among these signs are dry skin, brittle nails, burning and tingling sensations, feelings of cold, numbness, and discoloration. Always seek professional care when these signs appear.

Foot Problems Can Be Prevented

For reasons that are difficult to fathom, many people, including a lot of older people, believe that it is normal for the feet to hurt, and simply resign themselves to enduring foot problems which could be treated.

There are more than 300 different foot ailments. Some can be traced to heredity, but for older people, most of them stem from the cumulative impact of years of neglect or abuse. However, even among people in their retirement years, many foot problems can be treated successfully, and the pain of foot ailments relieved.

Whether neglect or abuse are present, the normal wear and tear of the years causes changes in feet. As persons age, their feet tend to spread, and lose the fatty pads that cushion the bottom of the feet. Additional weight can affect the bone and ligament structure. Older people consequently should have their feet measured for shoe sizes more frequently, rather than presuming that their shoe sizes remain constant. Dry skin and brittle nails are other conditions older people commonly face. Finally, it's a fact that women, young and old, have four times as many foot problems as men, and high heels are often the culprits.

Observing preventive foot health care has many benefits. Chief among them are that it can increase comfort, limit the possibility of additional medical problems, reduce the chances of hospitalization because of infection, and lessen requirements for other institutional care.

Keep Them Walking

Studies show that care for a bedridden patient costs much more than care for an ambulatory patient. In their private practices and in foot clinics, podiatric physicians are providing services designed to keep older people on their feet, and they serve in hospitals and nursing homes across the country.

Records indicate that amputations and other forms of surgery due to infections of the feet, many brought about by diabetes, have been significantly reduced in recent years because of early diagnosis and treatment. Further reduction in this area is a goal of Healthy People 2000, a US Department of Health and Human Services campaign endorsed by podiatrists, to encourage understanding and application of preventive medical practices.

Foot Health Tips

(c) Copyright 1996 - David C. Stege, DPM - All rights reserved.