Caring For Aging Feet: Research on Preventing Foot Disorders

TS_wheelolder_2.18.16We expect a lot from our feet. They get us to all the places we need to go, while providing the anchor and balance crucial to physical activity. And on Cape Cod, our ability to stay active out of doors in the beautiful environment depends on keeping our feet healthy.

As we age, foot problems can become common. From aches and pain to bunions and corns, our feet are prone to many conditions that can cause discomfort and impact mobility.  As we learn more, it becomes even clearer that seniors should understand that foot problems often require medical attention and should not be ignored as an inevitable part of aging.

This shouldn’t be surprising when you consider that the distance people walk in a lifetime would take them around the globe nearly six times. Yet, our feet are often neglected and foot pain is frequently written off as an insignificant risk to health.  Researchers have also neglected foot problems when it comes to learning how they can affect overall senior health.

The Institute for Aging Research (IFAR) of Hebrew SeniorLife is changing that with new work that specifically focuses upon foot pain and foot conditions. With the belief that foot ailments are not adequately considered as a possible root cause of disability that limits the activity of many older adults, Dr. Marian Hannan, D.Sc., M.P.H.Co-Director of Musculoskeletal Research Center and Senior Scientist at IFAR and her team have focused on the significance of foot pain and its impact on senior health and quality of life.

She is currently conducting research on risk factors for foot disorders, arthritis, hip fracture and osteoporosis.  She is particularly interested in the effect of biomechanics upon physical function and the influence of body composition and nutrition upon bone health.

“Foot disorders can affect our ability to walk, balance, get around, do grocery shopping, pick up your grandkids and do all the things that we hope to do as we age.” said Dr. Hannan.   “And over the last ten years here at IFAR we’ve made significant contributions by looking at over 6,000 people and 12,000 feet in our research.”

“We’ve learned that sometimes is not the foot disorder but the accompanying pain that is the real problem,” Dr. Hannan continued.  “IFAR has published work showing that foot disorders do affect people’s balance and balance is a huge concern as a people age.

For example, Hannan explained that researchers have learned that foot pain can cause difficulty with walking, and as one might expect, the pain influences an individual to move around less and often improperly, putting stress on other areas like knees or hips or even the other foot.

Even if a foot disorder does not produce pain, it may still affect balance and gait in such a way as to impact other joints. When foot pain and disorders are ignored, seniors can be well on the way to eventual disability.

Since the first step to establishing the link between foot pain and disability is to understand how prevalent foot pain is among seniors, where it is most often located, and what conditions cause it, the Institute for Aging Research continues to focus on these very questions.

“Our focus is on the biomechanics of the foot, how we walk and what other modifiable components can optimize maintaining balance, posture and our ability to do the things we want to do,” said Hannan.

Our feet have intricate anatomy, designed to take us where we need to go. We must take the right steps to ensure a pain-free journey. Here are five tips to help you get started on that journey:

  1. Discuss any aches or pains in your feet with your doctor. Your doctor may recommend consulting with a podiatrist whose medical school training specializes in the foot. There are an increasing number of day surgery options for a variety of foot problems. 
  1. Wear proper, supportive footwear to help reduce problems and pain. This is true for everyday footwear as well as footwear for exercise.  Custom-made orthotic insoles are available for all types of shoes. 
  1. Be alert to related changes in your balance or gait and discuss with your doctor. This may be indicative of a problem with your feet that may affect your knee and hip joints also.
  1. Maintain a healthy weight to reduce pressure and stress on your feet. Exercise and diet support maintaining a lower weight and will help alleviate or prevent some foot disorders. 
  1. Care for your feet with regular pedicures. Regular pedicures are a good preventative measure for maintaining healthy feet and reducing the risk of developing several types of foot problems.

View the following video of Dr. Hannan talking about her research: http://www.instituteforagingresearch.org/scientists/team-profiles-and-bios/marian-t-hannan-dsc-mph

By Jane Baker, Marketing Manager for Hebrew SeniorLife Communities.

Meet Dr. Marian Hannan and learn more about Orchard Cove and their Harvard Medical School-affiliated geriatricians at the ‘Happy Feet for Life Luncheon”:

For more information on Orchard Cove visit www.orchardcovelive.org.

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