The Surprising Benefits of Regular Foot Care
Why healthy feet can make all the difference as you grow older
Is it possible to write a witty and profound article about feet? Possibly not. But this is important stuff. It could save your life.
In his wonderful book Being Mortal, the surgeon Atul Gawande describes sitting in with a chief geriatrician for some routine consultations. He noticed that the doctor spent a lot of time examining the feet of one patient who had several issues related to ageing although not directly related to her feet. When asked whether the foot exam was really necessary, the doctor answered, “Yes, you must always examine the feet.” He concluded that this lady was remarkably mentally and physically well at 85 years old, but struggled to stand on her feet and had poor balance. This meant, in his view, that the most serious danger she faced was from falling.
Falls are common and can cause serious health issues for older people. They are the main cause of loss of independence and often the reason for needing assisted living. This was very true for my mother. After several falls, she lost confidence and the fear of falling led to a loss of mobility and strength.
Falls can cause head injury, fractures and internal bleeding, and in the UK, they are the most common cause of injury-related death in people over 75.
The geriatrician found in this case that the patient’s feet were swollen, she hadn’t cut her toenails and she had calluses and sores. Following a referral to a podiatrist for regular care, a year later this lady was doing well and hadn’t had any falls. The natural ageing process means that older people have an increased risk of having a fall.
Reading this reminded me of several patients I had met during my nursing career who struggled with walking and balance as a result of problems with their feet. Often simply being unable to reach to cut their toenails had resulted in chronically thickened and overgrown nails and, as a result, pain.
Weight-bearing exercise, such as walking, is often recommended in falls prevention, as is resistance training to generally strengthen muscles. But clearly, poor foot health is a barrier to these strategies. Poor ankle and foot strength affects…