Putting feet first when you have dementia

If you have dementia, foot problems can really impact on your enjoyment of life. Here’s how to help your loved one stay on their feet for longer

Does the person you’re caring for seem unsteady on their feet? Are they walking more slowly than they used to? While it’s true that dementia can affect mobility and lead people to develop a slow, shuffling walk there are also many other reasons why your loved one might be reluctant to walk around.

So take a look at the checklist below – it might be easier than you think to get them back on their feet.

1. Have you examined their feet?

Skin on your feet becomes more fragile as you age and more prone to

- Bunions, (a bump, usually on the outside of your big toe, which can become red and inflamed)
- Corns and calluses
- Hammer toe (a toe becomes permanently curled)
- Toenail problems (ingrown toenails, fungal infections and abnormally thick nails)

If the person you’re caring for has developed any of the above conditions. Their feet could be very sore – large bunions can cause balance problems too – so it’s no wonder they’ve gone off walking.

2. Have you seen an expert?

A chiropodist or podiatrist (they’re both the same, but most prefer being called podiatrists now) might be able to treat the troubling conditions above and ease pain considerably. Many people with dementia find they can get these services on the NHS so it’s worth checking with your GP before paying.

3. Are they diabetic?

If they already have diabetes it’s always worth checking foot problems with a doctor – even a small cut can lead to a severe infection which could quickly become serious. Watch out for red areas or spots on the feet which could be a sign of an infection, and foot pain at night which could suggest circulatory problems.

4. Have you tried a pedicure?

Turn foot care into a pampering activity – the more regularly you do it, the better – and it could help to reduce agitated behaviour.

- Soak sore, aching feet in a bowl of warm water with a few drops of aromatherapy essential oils. This will help soften hard skin and could also be very relaxing. Lavender oil could be used at night as it’s proven to aid sleep with dementia.
- Pat feet dry and trim toe nails.
- Massage moisturiser all over the feet.
- If they’re in the mood, you could suggest painting their toenails too!

5. Do they wear slippers all day?

Most slippers don’t offer enough support to the feet and might encourage your loved one to ‘shuffle’ as they walk. If they’re also old and worn they could be extremely hazardous, making them more prone to slips and falls. Worn, poorly fitted slippers are one of the biggest causes of accidents amongst elderly people, so if in doubt swap them for a pair of bootie-type slippers specially designed for the elderly.

6. Are their shoes comfortable?

This might sound obvious but if the person you’re caring for isn’t able to verbalise pain very well, it could be worth checking that their shoes aren’t responsible for causing them pain. Well-fitted, comfortable shoes can make a big difference to mobility, enjoyment of life and independence for someone with dementia, so try to make them a budget priority if you can. Perhaps a decent pair of walking shoes or trainers could be part of their personal budget. If they do need new shoes, take them to get their feet measured first and spend as much time as possible finding the perfect fit.

Symptoms you shouldn’t ignore

-  A swollen and intensely painful toe – it could be gout.
-  Swelling, stiffness and rigid foot joints – it could be arthritis.
-  Pain along the bottom inside edge of the foot – it could be a condition called plantar fasciitis which causes stabbing pain near the heel and needs specialist treatment.