As a family caregiver, maintaining proper foot care for yourself and for the person in your care is important, especially if one or both of you have diabetes.
According to Diabetes Canada, diabetes is a chronic condition that, if poorly managed, could lead to neuropathy (nerve damage) in the extremities like hands and feet. Nerve damage can make activities like walking or standing difficult and painful, and negatively affect a person’s sense of balance, which can lead to injuries due to falls.
Did you know that if a person with diabetes has nerve damage in their feet, they may not feel when a shoe is too tight or rubbing, which can lead to a wound, or they could step on a sharp object and may not even realize that they’ve been injured? An untreated wound (or lack of blood flow to the extremity because of nerve damage) may even lead to amputation of the limb. See our article Foot Care Tips For People Living with Diabetes and Family Caregivers.
What are foot ulcers?
A foot ulcer is an open sore on the foot and can range from anywhere between a shallow, red crater that affects only the surface skin, to a very deep crater that goes through the full thickness of the skin. It can be very difficult to heal a foot ulcer, especially diabetic foot ulcers, so it’s important to do everything possible to prevent infection because it can develop into:
- An abscess: a collection of pus under the skin
- Cellulitis: a spreading infection of the skin and underlying fat
- Osteomyelitis: bone infection in the feet
- Gangrene: an area of dead, darkened body tissue caused by poor blood flow
First aid for foot ulcers
Diabetes Canada states that approximately, “15 per cent of Canadians with diabetes, or over 400,000 people, will develop a foot ulcer in their lifetime.” They also warn that, “Nearly one third of people with diabetes who require an amputation will die within the following year and two thirds will die within 5 years.” In short, foot care is extremely important to the ongoing health and wellbeing of anyone who has diabetes.
If you notice a foot ulcer in your own foot or in the foot of the person in your care:
- Wash any minor scrapes or skin openings gently
- Apply an antiseptic cream and cover with a bandage
- See a nurse practitioner or medical doctor for advice
- If the area around the wound becomes hot, red, swollen, smelly, or painful, see a health practitioner immediately
Remove the cause of foot ulcers
Fifty per cent of foot ulcers begin because of two reasons:
- Friction - Two surfaces rubbing across one another
- Shear – Usually caused by poorly fitting shoes where pulling and damage of underlying tissues is caused by the bone moving one way but the skin does not
Our Elizz article, What are pressure ulcers and how can they be avoided? has more information on pressure ulcers caused by friction and shear.
If you have, or the person in your care has a foot ulcer, speak to a chiropodist (a doctor who specializes in feet) or pedorthotist (pedorthics is the design and fitting of footwear) about what options are available to take the pressure away, such as professionally fitted footwear or an off-loading device.
Eat a balanced diet
Energy and nutrients are required to heal wounds. Choose foods that are well balanced, provide vitamins and minerals, and include protein such as meats, fish, milk, and peanut butter.
A dietician can work with you and the person in your care by discussing the foods that you both like and can afford, and create a meal plan that you are likely to stick to. See also our Elizz article called Nutrition and Wound-Healing Foods for more information.
Preventing foot wound infection
Here are some tips you can use to prevent a foot wound from becoming infected:
- Follow the wound care advice provided by the doctor or nurse, including how to clean the foot wound and apply the most appropriate dressing
- Don’t walk barefoot on the ground. It is covered with bacteria, which can enter an open, unprotected wound
- Wear cotton diabetic socks designed to control moisture and reduce risk of fungal infection. Fungus causes inflamed skin that may be red, itchy, and leak fluid. Contact a health care practitioner if you think you or the person you’re caring for has a fungal infection
- Wipe your shower down after each use with an antiseptic solution
- If you or the person in your care is diabetic, monitor blood sugar levels closely. Rising sugar levels might indicate the start of an infection. Early treatment will help reduce the risk
To maintain mobility and independence for you or the person in your care, plus reduce the risk of more severe health complications it is imperative to keep feet healthy. For professional foot care treatments such as callus and corn removal, or for more complicated foot care conditions, speak to an Elizz certified foot care nurse. They have the training and skills necessary to correctly identify and treat foot problems, and diabetic foot ailments. For more information call Elizz at 1-855-275-3549 or visit our Elizz services page on our website to inquire about professional foot care services.
You may also want to read our article, Four great reasons to hire a certified foot care nurse, to learn more about foot care nurses and the expert service only they are qualified to provide.
At Elizz, we provide caregiver support for you and home care services for those who depend on you. Elizz is a Canadian company powered by Saint Elizabeth, a national not-for-profit health care organization that has been caring for Canadians since 1908.