02/27/2013 05:49 EST | Updated 04/29/2013 05:12 EDT

Ask Elizabeth: Why You Should Step Up Foot Care with Diabetes

FILE - In this Nov. 14, 2008 file photo, a health worker, left, takes a blood sample from a diabetic patient's hand at a free blood sugar checking camp on World Diabetes Day in Calcutta, India. Nearly everywhere around the world, people are living longer and fewer children are dying. But more and more the world is grappling with the diseases and disabilities of modern life, according to the most expansive global look so far at life expectancy and the biggest health threats nation by nation. (AP Photo/Bikas Das, File)

Over three million Canadians have diabetes and this number is expected to reach 3.7 million by 2020. Caregivers of people with diabetes, especially seniors, need to learn all they can about stepping up foot care -- from maintenance, to shoe selection. Going without proper foot care can be dangerous. Our Ask Elizabeth* advice column has some tips that may be helpful.

Natalie Strouth is a nurse with Saint Elizabeth and the information specialist behind Ask Elizabeth, a free caregiver support service. Saint Elizabeth has been a trusted name in Canadian health care for more than a century and is a national, not-for-profit, charitable organization.

In her weekly column, Natalie answers your questions about caring for a family member or friend who needs extra support -- and caring for yourself as a caregiver.

Send your question to

Kerry asks: My grandmother lives with me and she has diabetes. Her doctor told me that she needs to take better care of her feet. How should I be helping her?

Stepping up proper foot care is critical for a person with diabetes. Your help will play a big role in preventing unwanted complications associated with your grandmother's diabetes, like circulatory problems, infections or foot ulcers. As always, prevention is the best medicine. Here are some things you can do to help:

  1. Inspect her feet thoroughly for any cuts, cracks, or sores and report any of these changes to her doctor.
  2. Her feet should be washed daily and dried well, especially between her toes.
  3. Ensure she is wearing the right shoes. Shoe irritation can cause a wound or ulcer, which can be dangerous for a person with diabetes. Look for signs of redness or blisters that may indicate a shoe concern.
  4. As a general rule, people with diabetes should not soak their feet. Soaking can increase the risk of infection, overly dry skin or burn injuries for people who have decreased sensation in their feet caused by their diabetes.
  5. Her toenails and calluses should be cared for regularly by a health care professional.

You can find health care professionals in almost every community who specialize in foot care:

  • Chiropodists and podiatrists specialize in treating foot diseases, disorders and dysfunctions
  • Diabetes educators provide education on living with diabetes, including foot care
  • Doctors assist in diabetes management and some have specialized training in foot care
  • Nurses often have specialized training in foot care
  • Orthotists and prosthetists specialize in orthotic and prosthetic devices
  • Pedorthists specialize in orthotics, footwear and footwear modifications

The Canadian Diabetes Association offers educational workshops on many topics, including foot care, that your family may find very helpful.

Remember, you can prevent most complications associated with diabetes. Learning how to properly care for your grandmother's feet has long term value for her overall health.

Send your caregiving question to Answers may appear in an upcoming weekly column. Ask Elizabeth does not offer legal guidance, nor does it answer questions about personal health issues.

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