Because of her diabetes, my mom has nerve damage to her feet -- what kind of footwear does she need to avoid problems?

A fellow caregiver asked...

My mother has neuropathy, a diabetes-related complication. What kind of shoes and socks will help protect her feet?

Expert Answer

Theresa Garnero is clinical nurse manager of Diabetes Services at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco.

Think extra foot support and protection at all times for a parent with neuropathy. In practical terms that means shoes that are sturdy enough so that you can't fold them into a pretzel shape or wring them out like a towel. Your mom needs the extra support because people with neuropathy often can't feel their feet at all because of the nerve damage.

Some describe the condition as like walking on bricks or tennis balls; others experience pain or a strange tingling sensation. That puts them at greater risk for twisting an ankle or falling and breaking a hip. When your mom is at home, she should always wear slippers to protect her feet from any sharp objects that might be on the floor, such as a pin or staple. And she should never go barefoot when she's outdoors.

In addition, her shoes should fit well, be seamless across the toes, and have enough room in the toe area so she can wiggle her feet. The goal here is to avoid blisters because, left unnoticed, these minor problems can cause serious infections in people with type 2 diabetes. Pointy toes or high heels aren't advisable; your mom's footwear should not rub or cramp any areas of her feet. She should also check inside her shoes before slipping them on to make sure nothing sharp is sticking through her sole. It's also smart to wear new shoes only for an hour or so before looking for pressure spots or budding blisters. And she should rotate her footwear daily.

Look for socks that breathe, cushion the feet, aren't too constricting, and are seamless across the toes. Cotton-synthetic blends are a good choice, as they pull moisture away from the feet, minimizing the opportunity for blisters to develop. Socks designed for people with diabetes include those containing X-static, a silver-coated fiber that inhibits the growth of bacteria, another potential source of foot infections. Find online sources by searching for diabetes socks or check your parent's local pharmacy for cushioned socks specifically for people with diabetes or sensitive feet.

Along with wearing appropriate footwear, your mom should inspect her feet every day to check for any injury or infection. She should look for blisters, sores, cuts, tender areas, or hard or cracked skin on the top and on the soles of her feet. She should also trim her toenails regularly. If her eyesight is failing or she has difficulty reaching her feet, you or another caregiver might help her with these tasks.