By Holly Pitas

“My dogs are barking!”  I had no idea what she was talking about.  Bertie explained to me her expression for saying her feet hurt.

Even following her Doctor recommendations and prescribed medications, most everything on her body ached at some point each day. It was the painful feet that she considered most intolerable.  She had old feet, gnarled with arthritis, and twisted toes.  Yep, just looking at them was painful.

We couldn’t get her any new feet, but we could certainly try to help this pair.

A relaxing foot soak, a little home pedicure, can be just the thing to relieve those aching feet and tease in a little comfort.

Proceed with caution.

Grab a basin, some lotion, a towel, a nail file and get to work.  Whoa!  Sounds easy, but it’s not so simple. Working with the elderly or assisting a special needs person requires special consideration in all tasks.  You must be fully prepared to conduct the task from start to finish with all proper tools at hand.    Think ahead.  Prepare. Double-check. Execute with utmost caution.

What you’ll need.

Once you get started you will not be able to leave the person unattended.  Make sure you have everything in place. You’ll be working with water and it may spill.  It’s best to be on a hard surface floor, like in the bathroom or kitchen.  Have extra towels within reach.

Time: This process may take anywhere from 15 minutes to one hour.

Tools: as appropriate, pumice for calluses, toenail clipper, nail buffer.

The Expected: Comfortable chair for them and a basin or bucket big enough for feet to comfortably submerge. Towels, wash cloth, powder, lotion.

The Unexpected: Q-tips, prescription lotion, blow-dryer, clean slippers/socks/shoes (for when they’re done), phone (to dial 911 in case of emergency), magazine or item to look at, pleasant music, sweater or blanket ( in case they get cold) sani-gloves, white vinegar.  Contain items for safe and easy access in a wheeled cart or basket.

Extras: A trip to the toilet before putting feet into water.

As needed for safety, an additional person in the room to assist with focus, entertainment, or distraction.

Set the stage:

Have a comfortable chair for them to sit in and a stool for you to sit on.  Ideally, you’ll want to sit closer to foot level.  Test it out, sit in their chair and put your feet into a dry basin.  Are you comfortable to sit this way for 10 to 15 minutes?  If not, make adjustments.  Be sure to consider their body height and shape.  Make it most comfortable for them. Don’t have the person try to maneuver around the tools. Best to have the person sit down safely into the chair and then move the basin and tools into place.

Comfortably warm water: approximately 100 degrees.  Be sure to test it, a cooking thermometer works well or submerge your sani-gloved hand for 20 seconds.  Warm enough to be comfortable, not hot enough to irritate delicate skin.  Adding some white vinegar will help to soften the water, while acting as a natural deodorizer and antifungal.

Caution: older people may have something called “neuralgia” which means they have diminished ability to feel sensation.  They might feel the pain of arthritis, but they won’t feel a needle prick.  Essentially they could soak their feet in scalding water and not realize they are burning their skin.

Soak feet in the basin. Gently rub calluses with the washcloth, trim, file and buff nails as appropriate.  Gentle stroking or massage can be soothing… no tickling!

Dry the feet thoroughly: Try using a Q-tip between toes; it’s very gentle on delicate skin.  A blow-dryer on low is great for drying hidden moisture.

Exit: Move basin and tools out of the way.  Dry Floor area thoroughly!   Apply proper footwear.  Bare feet with lotion are slippery and dangerous! Help person to stand and exit the area.  Safely situate them on their next adventure and then go back and clean up.

General Tips:

At every medical exam the Doctor should examine bare feet, top and bottom. If nails or calluses are particularly thick you may want to seek the help of a Podiatrist.  Check out your  local Senior Center, many offer special nail trimming foot care by a visiting foot specialist.

Caution on using “heat” creams.  Again, these can burn delicate, sensitive elderly skin. Be sure to inquire about various creams with your Pharmacist, Doctor, Nurse, or Professional Care-giver.