It’s National Feet Week (March 9-15, 2020) which aims to raise awareness of foot health and encourage people of all ages to take care of their feet. 

Most of us will automatically book regular check-ups at the dentist or optician, but how often do we make appointments to see a chiropodist or podiatrist, or consider the benefits of a foot massage or a reflexology session?

Having well cared for feet is vital. Foot problems can quickly lead to discomfort and affect the way we walk, which can then cause knee, hip and back problems. And having foot injuries and infections contributes to poor mobility, which in turn, leads to loss of muscle tone, strength and agility.

Yet foot health is frequently neglected.

I attended a presentation given by a podiatrist recently, the context of the talk was ‘falls prevention’: the gathered audience was considering how the risk of falls for older people living in care homes could be reduced.

“How many people in the room file their toenails with an emery board after cutting them?” asked the podiatrist. One person out of around 40 people put her hand up. “Who in the room moisturises their feet every day?”  Two people said they did.

Advice for taking care of our feet:

Wash your feet often
Keep your feet clean by washing them every day in warm soapy water, but don’t soak them, as this might destroy your skin’s natural oils.

Dry your feet well
Dry your feet thoroughly after washing them, especially between the toes which is where fungal infections such as athlete’s foot can develop.

Moisturise and file
If your skin is dry, apply moisturising cream all over the foot, except for between the toes. Gently remove hard skin and calluses with a pumice stone or foot file, but not too much as hard skin has a protective effect.

Cut toenails carefully
Trim your toenails regularly using proper nail clippers. Cut straight across, never at an angle or down the edges. This can cause ingrown toenails.

Shop for shoes in the afternoon
Feet swell as the day wears on, so it’s important to shop for shoes in the afternoon, when your feet are at their largest.

Wear sensible, securely fitting footwear
Wear comfortable shoes. Wear the right shoes for the occasion. Avoid loose fitting slippers and limit the amount of time wearing flip flops.

Change your socks often to avoid foot odour
Change your socks daily to keep your feet fresh.

In my experience, consulting a specialist health practitioner about our feet is something we would only think about doing if we had a problem, and even then, many people would only seek help if the problem was causing them pain.

Research from The College of Podiatry found that nine in 10 people experience some sort of foot problem, with one in five admitting to having foot pain often or constantly. This research suggests that people are willing to put up with ‘sore, aching and painful feet’, rather than seek help.

Feet come low on the priority list. We rather take them for granted!

For people living with dementia, keeping feet healthy and free from infection or injury, is exceptionally important. Dementia increases the risk of falls. Changes in sensory input, causing distortions to sound perception, sight and touch sensations; co-ordination difficulties and problems with balance and gait; alterations in interpretation of the environment, causing illusions and mis-perceptions, for example, of depth, colour, pattern and temperature; anxiety and loss of confidence; disorientation in unfamiliar places; changes to insight, judgement and ability to reason; poly-pharmacy and the side-effects of medication: these are all contributory factors.

To mitigate falls risks related to dementia, as well as other risks that affect all older people, it is advisable to seek help from a podiatrist on a regular basis.

Podiatrists are health care professionals who have been trained to prevent, diagnose, treat and rehabilitate abnormal conditions of the feet and lower limbs. They also prevent and correct deformity, keep people mobile and active, relieve pain and treat infections. 

Podiatrists can give you advice on how to look after your feet and what type of shoes to wear. They can also treat and alleviate day-to-day foot problems, including: toenail infections, corns and calluses, verrucas, gout, athlete’s foot and heel pain.

A person living with dementia is just as likely to experience general health problems as a person who doesn’t have dementia, and yet the health issues of people with dementia are often overlooked.

It may be that the person cannot communicate verbally that they are experiencing pain and discomfort, or they may be unaware of a problem with their feet, such as a fungal infection or athlete’s foot, that could be detected by regular examination and treated successfully. With co-morbidities too, especially vascular disease, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, keeping feet in good order is critical.

In most areas of the UK, podiatry services will be available to people with a diagnosis of dementia free of charge through the NHS.

For people over 60, the advice of podiatrist, Emma Supple, on the NHS website is: “Go to see a professional for a foot MOT, every six months, and never put up with foot pain as if it is normal. Your feet shouldn’t hurt.”

Your GP will be able to make a referral, and, in some localities, you can self-refer.

My father complains a lot about his feet. He thinks he has an ingrown toenail. When I asked whether he had been to see the doctor or practice nurse about it, he replied: “No, it really isn’t worth bothering about, there’s nothing they will be able to do”.

My view: it is always worth bothering about. I’ve made an appointment for him with the local podiatry service (and I shall go too). I am optimistic that the treatment will improve his quality of life significantly.

Reflexology, too, can be extremely beneficial. 

A regular reflexology session can give feet a whole new lease of life. 

The benefits of reflexology:

  • Reduces stress and anxiety
  • Stimulates circulation
  • Eases aches and pains
  • Relaxes 
  • Removes energy blocks and increases energy levels 

If you have positive experiences of interventions from podiatrists for people living with dementia, or have faced difficulties in getting help with foot problems, please get in touch barbara@livebetterwith.com

If you are a podiatrist or chiropodist and offer treatments for people with dementia, please share your tips for successful approaches.