Nearly 30% of Americans over the age of 65 are living with diabetes. Without proper treatment, this chronic illness can affect almost every organ in your parent’s body including your feet.
As a result, this can cause your senior parent pain, make it hard for them to get around, and in extreme cases, result in amputation.
Fortunately, with a regular foot care routine, your parent can minimize or even avoid many of these complications. Most importantly, your parent can perform most elements of the routine at home at no cost, with a little teaching from a healthcare provider.
Here’s what you should know about the importance of foot care for seniors with diabetes.
Why does diabetes damage feet?
The high blood sugars that come from uncontrolled diabetes can cause damage to many of the organs in your parent’s body, including their feet. Diabetes causes damage to the feet in a few different ways:
Uncontrolled diabetes damages the walls of the arteries and veins. This means that blood doesn’t flow as well to the arms and legs. Consequently, hands and feet can’t get the oxygen and nutrients that they need.
Damage to nerves:
High blood sugar damages the nerves in the feet. Doctors call this condition peripheral neuropathy. Damaged nerves feel painful and tingly at first, but over time feet lose sensation.
Poor wound healing:
Chronic high blood sugar slows the healing processes of the body and makes it harder for the body to fight infections.
When someone with uncontrolled diabetes gets a cut or a blister on their foot, they may not feel it right away and it can grow worse. Since the area isn’t getting good blood flow, the wound might not heal and can get infected. Then the body has trouble clearing out the infection.
This is how some people with diabetes end up with damage to their feet or find themselves needing to have part of their foot removed. Fortunately, most complications from diabetes are preventable.
The importance of foot care for seniors with diabetes
Foot disease affects nearly 6% of people with diabetes. It can affect your parent’s ability to walk, be social, and enjoy life. Subsequently, untreated diabetic foot disease can even lead to amputation. The risks from chronic high blood sugar are serious, but they can be prevented with good blood sugar control, home foot care, and regular exams.
Along with how to control their blood sugars, your parent’s healthcare provider should teach them about the importance of foot care. Basic foot care for seniors with diabetes can be done at home and requires no special equipment.
When combined with healthy eating, physical activity, and taking medications as prescribed, a regular home foot care routine can help your senior parent live longer and healthier with diabetes.
Dos and don’ts for diabetic foot care
Your parent’s doctor can help them develop a foot care routine that is specific to their exact needs. However, here are some general dos and don’ts for diabetic foot care:
✅ Wash feet daily.
✅ Inspect feet for cuts, cracks, redness, or fungal infections.
✅ Keep feet dry and moisturized.
✅ Change socks frequently.
✅ See a podiatrist for regular foot exams.
✅ Wear proper fitting shoes at all times.
✅ Wear socks with shoes and check them for foreign objects before putting them on.
❌ Don’t try to remove corns or calluses at home.
❌ Don’t trim toenails at home unless this has been okayed by a healthcare provider.
❌ Don’t use moisturizer between the toes, this can trap water and cause skin breakdown.
❌ Don’t walk around barefoot.
❌ Don’t wear a new pair of shoes all day right away, break them in over time.
❌ Don’t forget to tell your healthcare provider if you develop any blisters, cuts, or sores.
How to care for a diabetic foot blister
If your parent does develop a blister, cut, or fungal infection on their feet, be sure to notify their healthcare provider.
Most blisters will heal on their own, but it can take longer in seniors with diabetes. There is also a greater chance of getting an infection. Call a healthcare provider immediately if your parent shows any of the following signs of infection:
Redness around the wound
Warm or hot skin around the wound
Your parent’s doctor’s first recommendation is likely to be “off-loading”. This means having your parent stay off their feet to prevent putting pressure on the wounded area. As a result, this reduces pain and can help keep the wound from getting bigger.
To treat a diabetic foot blister, the doctor might also recommend special shoes or wraps to protect the area and antibiotic medications to treat the infection.
If the infection gets worse, a healthcare provider might then recommend:
Surgery to remove dead skin or infected tissue
X-rays to look for signs of infection in the bone
Antibiotics given through an IV into the vein
Bandages with special coatings to help fight infections
These last few treatments are only used in severe cases but show the importance of foot care for seniors with diabetes. A regular home foot care practice can prevent or minimize many of these complications.
Is diabetic foot care covered by Medicare?
Medicare doesn’t cover foot care for every senior, but it does cover some types of foot care for seniors who have diabetes.
Medicare will cover foot exams for seniors with diabetes once a year, as long as they haven’t seen a foot care professional for another reason in-between visits.
Depending on the results of the exam, foot care could include treatment for skin ulcers, corns, calluses, and toenail management. The cost to your parent for these services will depend on the type of Medicare coverage they have (Part B coverage vs a Medicare Advantage plan).
Seniors with diabetes on Medicare might also be covered for special shoes or shoe inserts to help protect their feet from injuries. These need to be ordered by a healthcare provider.
We’re here to help
Parentis Health is here to help you take care of all of your senior parent’s healthcare needs.
Whether it’s home healthcare services to better manage diabetes and other health conditions or transportation to medical appointments, our comprehensive services ensure that seniors in our care maintain their independence and preserve their quality of life.