Foot health and ageing

Ageing is a fact of life. After your feet have carried you millions of kilometres through your life, they can eventually wear down. But there are ways to keep your feet healthy as you age – through proper maintenance, care and regular check-ups.

What happens to feet as they age?

As you age, you can lose cushioning and soft tissue fat in the pads of your heels and balls of your feet, near your toes. Like the skin on your face, there is also a loss of elasticity in the skin on your feet, making it thin and vulnerable.

Bone deformities – such as bunions or arthritis – and difficulties undertaking basic foot care, can lead to foot health issues and sometimes an increased risk of falls – which for many can have drastic consequences.

Nails also become more brittle, thicker and harder, making them difficult to trim and prone to ingrown toenails, fungal breakouts and other infections.

Can foot problems be improved?

For older people, most foot problems can be improved by regular maintenance and care, keeping weight down, shoe modification and use of cushioned insoles.

To undertake regular foot maintenance, some elderly people have difficulty reaching their feet or have bad eyesight, so simple things like cutting toenails can be an issue – if this is the case get a family member to help or go and see a podiatrist. If you can cut your toenails yourself, make sure you trim them just short of the end of the toe, using a strong pair of nail clippers. After clipping, smooth the nails with a file or emery board, using downward strokes. It is also important to have your feet measured frequently as the bones in your feet change with age, this way you can ensure you choose shoes that fit well and are comfortable.

Taking good care of your feet as you age is good for your foot health as it helps you stay active and mobile.

When should you see a podiatrist?

Your feet are mirrors of your health. Warning signs of health conditions can be dry skin, brittle nails, burning and tingling sensations in your feet, or feelings of cold, numbness, and discolouration. If these occur, see a podiatrist, as they, along with your GP, will be able to pinpoint the cause.

Regular check-ups with your podiatrist are recommended, especially if you cannot look after your feet yourself and you have no one to help you. Nails that grow too long can become infected and if you are diabetic – which has a higher risk factor as we age – infection can lead to more serious illness.

Australian Podiatry Association