Many of us take our feet for granted. We might trim our toenails regularly or slap a band-aid on the occasional blister, but not much else. However, for people with diabetes—and especially older diabetics—diligently looking after foot health is of the utmost importance. Diabetes impacts the feet in many different ways, and one of the most serious is diabetic peripheral neuropathy.
What is Peripheral Neuropathy?
Chronically high blood sugar levels associated with diabetes can lead to many health issues. Cardiovascular disease, kidney damage, and eye problems are commonly associated with diabetes, but it can also affect your nerves. When left unchecked, high levels of blood sugar can eventually lead to nerve damage.
Peripheral neuropathy is nerve damage affecting the feet, legs, and hands. It often begins in the toes and feet and can spread to other parts of the body. Symptoms of peripheral diabetic neuropathy may manifest on a spectrum from tingling or numbness to stabbing pain in the feet or toes. People suffering from this condition may not feel heat, cold, pain, or sensation in affected areas.
Because it often begins in the feet, people experiencing this form of nerve damage might not be aware of cuts, blisters or sores that have developed in the affected area. When left untreated, these minor wounds can lead to serious infections. In extreme cases, this might even necessitate amputation, or lead to life-threatening complications.
Diabetic Neuropathy is Common but Serious
About 60 to 70 percent of all people with diabetes will eventually develop peripheral neuropathy. Though this condition is common, not all people who develop peripheral neuropathy will experience pain. That means that staying in contact with your doctor and practicing diligent foot health habits is even more important for diabetic patients. With 48 million people estimated to be diagnosed with diabetes by 2050, between 29 and 34 million Americans could be affected by diabetic neuropathy by that year.
One thing which makes diabetic neuropathy of special concern to seniors, who are also at greater risk for diabetes compared to other age groups, is that it often develops over long periods. As a result, the changes can be subtle and more difficult to detect. Therefore, a person who has been living with diabetes all their life can be at greater risk for experiencing this form of nerve damage than a younger person.
Though patients can manage the effects and extent of diabetic neuropathy through treatments lowering blood sugar, the nerve damage it causes cannot be reversed. This means that proper identification and treatment are crucial steps to preventing irreversible damage.
Poor Circulation is Also a Concern
Another common symptom of diabetes that can impact a patient’s feet is poor circulation. Reduced blood flow to extremities can make it difficult for feet to fight infections and heal. This condition paired with the potential for nerve damage means that injuries to a patient’s foot might go unnoticed, and then be unable to heal. Even without the complications of neuropathy, poor circulation can lead to ulcers, swelling, and pain, which may impact mobility. In some of the worst circumstances, poor circulation paired with untreated injuries can even lead to gangrene.
Regular Foot Exams Can Help
Many serious complications of diabetes can manifest in the feet without noticeably presenting symptoms. That’s why regular foot inspections are key to identifying health concerns and preventing them from progressing.
Fortunately, there are many ways you can help keep your feet healthy, and the first is prevention. Make sure your shoes are well-fitted and not causing any blisters or discomfort; avoid going barefoot to reduce the risk of cuts or other injuries. Keeping feet clean and toenails trimmed are simple steps to keep feet healthy, and make identifying potential problems easier.
Giving yourself a foot self-exam between doctor’s visits is also important. Early-identification of abnormalities such as swelling, discoloration, or injuries, will help prevent these problems from worsening. Check circulation by pressing down on your big toenail until the color pales, and then release. Healthy blood flow should return the nail to its normal color within two to five seconds.
You can identify issues with flexibility by attempting to pick up small objects with your toes. One common symptom of neuropathy is numbness That means it’s also important to check the sensitivity in your feet. A good way to do this is by lightly running a pencil eraser over the top, bottom, and sides of your feet, applying equal pressure in all areas. These simple steps are a useful tool in identifying potentially life-threatening conditions early enough to prevent them.
Of course, performing these crucial self-exams may not be an option for all patients who desperately need it. Mobility issues, arthritis, and obesity are just some of the health complications which can make routine check-ups more difficult. In such cases, an in-home caregiver can make sure you get the help you need.
About Generations Home Care
Generations Home Care personalized in-home care and support services help those recovering from illness, injury, or surgery, living with a chronic disease, or dealing with the natural process of aging. We help people live a fuller, healthier, and independent life.
Our caregivers are trained in the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommended COVID-19 safety precautions. We offer levels of care ranging from companionship, to respite for the primary family caregiver, to homemaking services, to assistance with activities of daily living, to Alzheimer’s and dementia care. Generations Home Care takes a holistic approach and emphasizes a consistent, client-centered plan of care.
Our Specialty Services Include:
- Rehab or hospital-to-home programs for safe discharge.
- Short-term post-operative care during recovery periods.
- Non-medical life management services for people with chronic conditions.
- Veteran’s connection to care program.
- Live-in services and couples care.
If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you, contact us today at 602-595-HOME (4663) or by filling out the contact form on our website.