Happy feet make for a happy life

This week, our weekly columnist Claudette Sandecki talks toes

As we age, comfortable feet and  walking ease become important. We yearn to lose calluses from the soles of our feet and hard cracked skin from our heels.

Each year stiffens hip and knee joints until cutting and filing our own toenails falls beyond our capabilities.  Factor in failing eyesight, which  even bifocals cannot completely remedy at that distance, and you end up dependent upon other people for a routine pedicure.

Giving a safe pedicure to an elderly person demands experience and know-how. I’d wager that beyond podiatrists,  few of us have this experience or training. We surely lack malpractice insurance.

Many of the elderly have poor circulation in their lower extremities. Consequently, they take blood thinners to enhance circulation through their impaired blood vessels.  This makes any nick or cut risky, not only for excessive bleeding but also for infection.

Medical literature mentions at least one elder accidentally nicked during a  pedicure who had to be rushed to hospital by ambulance  for a blood transfusion to deal with prolonged bleeding.

The risk of infection from an incidental cut rises especially if the person suffers  from diabetes. Diabetes not only slows blood circulation in the feet, thus delaying healing, but also impairs the immune system inviting infection.

Toenails grow thicker and harder with age, often because of poor circulation,  until trimming toenails can no longer be done with cuticle scissors; the scissors’ hinge might separate before the nail yields.  As well, the grip length  of ordinary  two- inch nail clippers is too short   for the number of fingers needed to exert adequate pressure; it takes the three-inch size to do the job.

(Also available is a more expensive and specialized pair of clippers that capture the nail clippings.  Imagine ending the unpleasant surprise of stabbing your  bare instep on the needle end of a nail clipping embedded in the bathmat.)

The growth of calluses  can be slowed by daily scrubbing with a pumice stone. Keep in mind the scrubbing should be short in duration, gentle, with a  wet pumice applied to  the callus only. Avoid rubbing the sensitive surrounding skin.  Overdo the bounds once and you’ll remember next time; an unpleasant stinging follows.  And again, there’s the risk of bleeding and infection.

Pumice stones sold today are man-made from gritty material shaped  into oval cakes like soap. My Mom’s pumice stone was natural gray rock, lumpy and odd shaped, with cavities I could fit a finger into, its material  so fine, its surface felt smooth.

Calluses are one of those teeter totter health conditions: not in and of itself life threatening, but a contributor to diminishing activity. Calluses make walking painful.  In turn, uncomfortable walking discourages the elderly from exercising.  They hibernate to stay off their sore feet.  

The good news is paring  calluses improves comfort instantly. Barring other ailments, a person who hobbles into the podiatrist’s office to have his calluses shaved can stride out minutes later, remarkably comfortable.    A podiatrist will also  properly trim the toenails including filing with an electric abrasive tool. Fitting shoes with highly resilient insoles to cushion the callus area from pressure at every step further restores activity.

The podiatrist may advise regular application of Dermal Therapy Heel Care Cream to dry, cracked heel skin and to the pared areas to further slow the return of calluses.  The cream is available over-the-counter at drugstores for a reasonable amount.  

Regular appointments with a podiatrist every three months or so for routine foot care  are well worth the cost … not covered by medical.