Foot hygiene is essential for everyone, especially older people or those with circulatory or diabetic conditions. Care for your family member’s feet (and yours too!) with tips from registered nurse and beauty therapist Glenny Jones.
The condition of our feet often provides early indications of conditions such as diabetes, arthritis and circulatory disease. For this reason, the human foot is sometimes called ‘the mirror of health’.
Infections and poor healing are serious risks for those with impaired blood supply to their feet. This can also lead to diminished nerve sensations (including pain), so injuries to the feet might go unnoticed without regular checks.
Following are suggestions to prevent common problems, and ensure your family member’s tootsies look and feel good. Always consult a doctor or podiatrist if you have concerns.
Check daily for dryness, brittle nails, discolouration, cracks, cuts, scratches, areas of redness, or blisters. Regularly ask your family member if they have burning or tingling sensations, or feelings of cold or numbness in their feet. Report any of these to your family GP or podiatrist if they do not heal or disappear quickly.
Bathe feet every day with mild soap and lukewarm water. Use soap with moisturising qualities, or moisturise separately. Pat dry (don’t rub). Don’t immerse feet in water or other solutions that are very hot or cold, or place them for long periods on heating pads, electric blankets, hot water bottles, wheat bags, etc. Older skin can be fragile, sensitive, and burn easily.
If your older family member is immobile, ensure their feet change position often, especially the heels, which are vulnerable to pressure sores. You may want to rest your family member’s calves on a soft cushion so their heels and ankles are raised above surfaces (bed, footstool, Lazy boy footrest etc). Walking is the best exercise for feet of all ages. Regular foot and leg massages will boost circulation for those who are unable to walk.
Wear appropriate shoes and stockings. Shoes should be comfortable and safe to stand and walk in, shaped to the contour of the foot, and snug but not tight. Stockings that are too tight can cut off circulation.
Ensure stockings are the right size and don’t have seams, which can irritate older feet and skin.
Don’t use sharp instruments on feet apart from household nail cutters and files. Trim nails straight across so they are slightly longer than the toe, but don’t cut into the corners of the nail, or leave sharp edges that can scratch or hurt adjacent toes. Never cut corns or calluses with a razor or pocketknife. Many older people have very thick toenails – they should have their nails regularly trimmed and their feet inspected by a podiatrist.
Older people should have their feet measured from time to time, as feet can widen and change shape as we age. Shop for shoes later in the day (feet can swell during the day) to ensure a comfortable fit. Wearing well-fitting shoes can prevent many foot ailments. Low heeled shoes provide comfort, and are safer and less damaging than higher heeled shoes. Thick soles lessen pressure when walking on hard surfaces.
Orthotic wearers should have them checked professionally every six months. Don’t wear the same orthotic footwear for more than five years.
Seek specialist advice if feet are injured; their condition changes; healing of bumps, scratches, and bruises is prolonged; or there are signs of redness or infection that require professional attention.
Have feet examined by a podiatrist at least three times a year if your older family member has circulatory or diabetic conditions (once a year otherwise). To find a podiatrist in your area, visit www.podiatry.org.nz, the website of the NZ Society of Podiatrists. The site also has links to information sheets and booklets about foot health.
Fungal and bacterial conditions – including athlete’s foot – often happen because the feet are enclosed in a dark, damp, warm environment. Infections cause redness, blisters, peeling, and itching. If not treated quickly, infection can be difficult to cure.
Nail fungus is caused by living organisms that live deep under the nail, in the air, in dirt, in the carpet, on the floor, and on your skin. Fungus loves heat and humidity, so tight shoes, walking barefoot, cuts, scratches, and trimming nails too short are ideal breeding grounds for infection. Nail fungus can be spread from toe to toe and rarely goes away by itself. It is contagious and should be assessed by a GP. Nails affected by fungus may appear flaky, thick, discoloured (yellow, white or brown) and brittle. Nails also may become soft or dough-like and there may be an odour.
Keep feet – especially between toes – clean and dry, and allow fresh air to circulate whenever possible. Use a fungal powder if there are frequent fungal infections. Be consistent with foot care, as fungal infections take awhile to clear.
Change shoes, socks or stockings often. If not cleared within two weeks, always see your GP
Dry skin can often cause itching and burning feet. Remember to limit soap use. Apply body lotion to legs and feet.
Corns and calluses are often caused by friction and pressure of bony areas rubbing against shoes. Avoid treating corns yourself, especially if you have diabetes or poor circulation – see a podiatrist.
Warts are skin growths caused by viruses. They are sometimes painful and, if you leave them untreated, may spread. Visit your GP for an assessment; warts can be frozen or surgically removed.
Bunions occur when the big toe joints are out of line and become swollen or tender. Cause: poor-fitting shoes. Use protective pads to cushion painful areas. See your GP if bunions cause significant discomfort or make walking difficult.
Ingrown toenails occur when a piece of nail breaks the skin. They are caused by poorly trimmed nails and are common in big toes. Remember to cut nails straight across, and if pain or discomfort persists, see the GP or podiatrist.
Excessive foot sweating. Some feet sweat more than others, especially when they are covered. Use foot powder in shoes.
Can be from calcium deficiency. Calcium is found in orange, lemons, apples and Vitamin C.
A relaxing foot bath and massage can refresh tired feet.
Can be evident in uncared for feet. Rub pumice stone after bath regularly to remove dead, rough skin. Dry thoroughly and apply cream. Or apply oil/cream, wrap feet in cling film and put into plastic bags, covering all with a sock. Leave on overnight.
Massage olive oil into feet before going to sleep. Put on socks after massage.
Foot Care Basics
Check feet often for changes and general condition.
Soak both feet (antiseptic added) for no longer than 10 minutes.
Remove any hard skin with hard skin remover.
Ensure skin is smooth with no rough edges.
Remove feet from basin or foot bath and dry thoroughly (pat dry, don’t rub).
Wrap one foot in towel.
Shape nails on the other foot with emery board. If necessary, use clippers or scissors first. Cut nails straight across.
Repeat above with second foot.
Apply massage or skin cream to feet and lower legs.
Apply light dusting of talc to complete foot care treatment.
Helpful Foot Care Items
Long emery boards, cotton wool, orange sticks, tissues, nail brush, spatula, antiseptic solution, cuticle cream, hand cream, cuticle clippers, buffing cream, hoof stick, pumice stone, manicure scissors, hard skin remover, buffer, disposable gloves, manicure bowl, massage cream, bowl for water (feet), towels, cushion/stool, rubbish bin, steriliser, foot bath, antiseptic.
Recipes from the Pantry
Corn Meal Hand Cream
Mix ¼ cup corn meal with 3 tbsp milk.
Heat over low heat until a paste forms.
Add a few drops of almond oil.
Spread on hands.
Leave for about 10 minutes. Rinse.
½ cup Epsom salts or sea salt.
Basin of warm water.
½ cup baking soda.
Add salt and soda to water. Soak your feet until water cools.
You can add an infusion of favourite herbs (lavender or rosemary) that have been soaked in cup of boiling water for 20-30 minutes.
Strain and add to foot bath, or add a few drops of peppermint, lavender or rosemary essential oils to the water instead.
Dry feet thoroughly afterwards and apply cream.
A base cream (has no additives) or water cream can be purchased from the chemist.
Before applying, scoop out cream.
Add a few drops of rose water or favourite essential oil.
Mix together gently, then apply to skin.
Photo: Shutterstock.com, OlgaDanylenko