At one point or another, you might be called into a caregiving role for someone else with foot issues. A parent or spouse, perhaps. Maybe even a close friend or a child.

Sometimes it’s an open-ended arrangement—like caring for an aging or ill relative who needs ongoing care. Other times, you may be called in for a week or two while your loved one recovers from foot surgery.

Either way, it’s important as a caregiver to be able to tend to your loved one’s foot needs promptly and compassionately. But unfortunately, such issues often go overlooked for one reason or another—maybe you’re just overwhelmed, or don’t know how best to help.

We’d like to change that.

A Reminder: Foot Health Is a Critical Part of Overall Health

Let’s be honest: foot care is an afterthought to most people. (Until they start to hurt, that is.)

But feet matter, for two really big reasons:

  • They’re often a “window” into a person’s overall health—the “canary in the coal mine,” if you will. The symptoms of major conditions like diabetes, poor circulation, and neuropathy often strike the feet first.
  • Feet are your foundation, so if they aren’t working the way they should it can significantly reduce your quality of life. Painful feet may mean you can’t exercise or stay active, you’re less likely to spend time with friends or doing what you love, and that can all lead to poor physical health, social isolation, and depression.

Caring for a loved one’s feet is one very important way you can show someone you love them—and help them remain as active and independent as they can possibly be.

So, how can you help specifically?

Here’s some practical advice on how you, as a caregiver, can help protect your loved one’s feet during their old age, surgical recovery, or other foot-related issues.

Help Them Inspect Their Feet

Simply taking the time to check your loved one’s feet every time you visit is one of the best ways to help. Due to eyesight, sensation loss, mobility or other limitations, they may not be able to do this for themselves.

You don’t need to be a doctor of podiatric medicine to do the exam. Just keep an eye out for any signs of damage or injury. Cuts, blisters, bumps, discoloration, cold spots, etc. should just take a couple of minutes.

If you note anything unusual, make a note (or even take a picture) and check back next time to see if it’s gone away. If you notice a more serious problem (like an open sore) or find that an existing problem is getting worse, give us a call.

Help Them Create a Safe Home Environment

Foot troubles greatly increase the risk of accidental trips, balance-related falls, and other injuries. The risk is compounded if your loved one has to navigate a proverbial “minefield” of obstacles and challenges at home.

So, help them make their home space a little bit safer. For example:

  • Minimize the need to ascend or descend stairs. For example, you might consider moving sleeping quarters and clothing to the main floor if possible, or adding a ramp to the front door if there isn’t one. Add sturdy railings to staircases if none exist.
  • Clean up clutter around the house, especially in walkways. Get rid of tangles of cables, low-lying furniture, throw rugs, or anything that could be considered a tripping or slipping hazard.
  • Make sure everyday items (clothes, food, etc.) are close at hand and accessible without stretching or straining.
  • If your loved one is recovering from surgery and will be back on their feet within a few weeks, stock up on enough consumables (toilet paper, toothpaste, pantry items, etc.) to last them until they’re walking again, to cut down on shopping trips.
  • Buy night lights and place them in every room to help with navigation.

Help Them with Hygiene

Keeping feet clean and dry is important no matter who you are. But if you’re recovering from surgery or dealing with diabetes, peripheral neuropathy, or other foot issues, it’s particularly important. Again, this is one important way you can not only assist your loved one, but show how much you care.

Make sure they are washing their feet on a daily basis; assist them if they need help. If your loved one suffers from neuropathy, make sure they use a thermometer to make sure the water temperature is safe.

After washing, make sure they dry thoroughly (don’t forget between the toes!), apply a moisturizer, and put on a clean pair of socks. Don’t let feet soak or stay wet after washing!

You may also need to help with toenail trimming, especially if their nails are thickened. Use a large, sturdy pair of toenail clippers to make sure you get enough leverage for a clean cut. Do not cut their nails too short, and don’t round the corners—go nice and straight across.

Finally, if your loved one does not have diabetes or any other conditions that could compromise immunity, you may gently file down existing corns or calluses with a pumice stone. Never, ever, under any circumstances attempt to cut into them with a blade, or use any kind of sharp object or topical chemical.

Help Them Get Moving

Sometimes it can be hard for people who are hurting to find the motivation to exercise. But it’s important to stay as active as possible, regardless of one’s level of fitness and mobility.

Try to engage your loved one in some kind of physical activity, as they are able. Maybe that means a fun outing to the park or the store; maybe it means a quick walk around the house or even some stretches from a seated position.

In the short term, getting the blood flowing to feet and legs can help ease any existing swelling, cramping, or pain. And of course, over the long term, getting more exercise will help your loved one prevent or at least slow the progression of conditions like neuropathy and diabetes (not to mention other systemic diseases), and can help the achieve higher levels of mobility, self-reliance, and satisfaction.

Help Them Find Appropriate Footwear—and Make Sure They Wear It!

A person with feet compromised by neuropathy or diabetes should never go barefoot—even in their own home. The risk of injury and infection is just too great.

The best socks are white (that is, they contain no dyes), seamless (to prevent scratching or snagging), and made from a moisture-wicking fabric (such as an acrylic fiber).

Shoes should be comfortable, supportive, and spacious enough to wiggle toes. Specially made diabetic shoes with seamless interiors and extra depth to accommodate custom orthotics may be wise for those who need it.

If you need to take your loved one shoe shopping, try to go near the end of the day. The idea here is that by evening time, their feet are likely to be a little swollen and at their largest extent. Fitting new shoes at this time ensures that they’ll fit even when feet are a little swollen.

Other handy tips that might help here:

  • Always measure feet first, since they can widen and flatten over time (even through old age)
  • Velcro is easier than laces, especially for older adults—not just to put on, but also to adjust for swelling or inserts.
  • Heavy rubber soles have more traction and stability than leather or plastic.

Make Sure They’re Seeing Their Podiatrist

A foot specialist should be an important member of your loved one’s medical team if he or she has diabetes, neuropathy, balance issues, any history of foot problems, or are over age 65.

We can provide:

  • Foot care maintenance tasks that you aren’t able to handle on your own—everything from trimming toenails and calluses to more extensive treatment for major issues like bunions and ingrown toenails.
  • Screening for the early signs of diabetic foot complications, nerve issues, and other systemic problems.
  • Fall risk assessments.
  • Preventative and proactive care options like therapeutic shoes, arch supports, or custom orthotics.
  • Emergency care for foot wounds.
  • Emergency care for other kinds of injuries, including broken bones, sprains, etc.

If your loved one has not had a comprehensive foot checkup in more than a year—especially if they have diabetes—book them an appointment to come see us.

And if you notice any severe concerns—like a budding ulcer—contact us immediately and we will do everything we can to see you as soon as possible.

You can call the Freeland Foot & Ankle Clinic at any time at (989) 695-6788, or fill out our contact form so that a member of our staff can follow up with you soon.

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