It is not uncommon to ignore our feet until there are problems; but for seniors with diabetes, this could lead to dire consequences. Diabetes, in particular, is known to cause foot problems, so it is important to be especially vigilant when it comes to foot care.

According to the Canadian Diabetes Association, diabetes can cause damage to the nerves of the feet. If this happens, seniors may not be able to feel pain or discomfort, such as socks that are too tight, or a foreign object lodged in their shoe. They also may not be able to detect any sores or injury. The consequence is that they will not know anything is wrong, and therefore, not seek help, which increases the chance for infection or other problems.

If a senior with diabetes complains of foot tingling, burning, or a "pins and needles" sensation, this may also be an indication of nerve damage and should be evaluated by a doctor.

Diabetes can also cause damage to the blood vessels resulting in insufficient blood flow to the feet. Signs of poor circulation include sores that heal very slowly, feet that turn red when walking, or turn white when elevated, or very cold feet.

There are a number of things you can do to lower the chances of foot problems in seniors with diabetes.

  • Check the feet everyday.

  • Ensure that socks or stocking are not too tight and do not have holes.

  • Check the skin for swelling or hard areas, blisters, sores, and cracks and cuts.

  • Look for colour changes:

    • blue spots may indicate a recent injury

    • red swollen areas may indicate an infection or inflammation

    • white spots may indicate poor circulation

    • black spots may indicate gangrene

  • Look for changes in the nails

    • Thick nails may be due to infection

    • Redness around the nails may also indicate infection

    • Crumbling and discoloured nails may indicate an infection or ulcer under the nail

Tips for Foot Care

If a person complains of cold feet, DO NOT use hot water bottles, heating pads, or electric blankets. These may burn the skin. Seniors with diabetes may not be able to tell if these are too hot due to nerve damage.

DO NOT attempt to cut thick nails or to remove corns and calluses. This should be done by a doctor or foot specialist.

DO NOT use adhesive bandages, sticky gauzes, wraps and corn or callus removers. These, too, can damage the skin and lead to problems.

DO wash the feet everyday in warm water and mild soap. Do not soak the feet, instead, wash with a soft washcloth and gently dry with a soft towel.

Ensure that a senior never goes barefoot, that they change their socks everyday, and that their socks fit smoothly with no seams, tightness, wrinkles, or holes as these can irritate the feet.

Discourage seniors from wearing garters, elastic support bandages, knee-high nylons as they can restrict blood flow to the legs and feet.

Finally, encourage seniors to sit with both feet on the floor to avoid crossing their legs or ankles and this causes pressure that will reduce blood flow. If they are able, encourage seniors to stay as active as possible.

Unfortunately, diabetes can have serious consequences on the legs and feet so proper foot care is essential. To prevent infection or injury that may lead to more serious consequences, ensure that feet are checked and cleaned daily, that their socks are not too tight, that they sit correctly, and get a much exercise as possible.


Canadian Diabetes Association