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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Helping seniors -- from head to toes

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Registered nurse Marilyn Smith examines the foot of client Darla Fay Schwartz, 75, for signs of foot problems or poor circulation Jan. 13 at the Alton Senior Center. The center hosts the monthly foot clinics to help seniors remain active and healthy. Photo/Greer [Order this photo]
When Marilyn Smith returns home from work each night, she measures her output not by a number of pages typed or parts assembled, but by toes serviced.

A registered nurse with Grace Health Services, Smith provides foot care services to senior citizens at 10 centers throughout the southeastern Missouri region.

On Jan. 13, Smith, who lives in Doniphan, was tending to a host of seniors at the Alton Senior Center. Each 10-minute session includes toenail-clipping and buffing, plus a foot rubdown with a special blend of aloe vera, peppermint and tea tree oils.

"I see a lot of toes in a day," Smith said.

Smith said she also is checking her clients' feet for potential problems, such as nail fungus or poor circulation, and will refer them to a podiatrist or family doctor if necessary.

In a back room surrounded by quilts attached to quilting frames, puzzles in various stages of completion and shelves of books, Smith pulls up a chair in front of her clients.

"I never knew how important feet are until I saw it on TV," client Darla Fay Schwartz, 75, of rural Thayer, said. "I never had to have anyone cut my toenails for me before."

Smith said no one starts out life thinking others may someday have to help them with daily chores, but it happens. As people age and lose agility, it may be difficult for them to stoop to clip their nails, she said.

"You never think when you're 20 that someone would have to trim your nails for you," Smith said.

Diabetics also often lose sensation in their feet, and can actually show up in the emergency room with a nail imbedded in their foot without realizing it, Smith said.

Sponsored by the Southwest Missouri Office on Aging, the monthly foot care clinics cost $5 for those age 60 and older. Medicare does not pay for the sessions, except for diabetics on a limited basis.

For an additional $10 and 20 minutes, seniors can soak their feet to soften calluses. The foot care nurse will then remove as much of the callus as possible with an emery board and pumice. Hard calluses may take more than one session.

Smith advises her clients to rub baby oil into their feet after taking a bath or shower, and even wearing socks to bed at night after dousing their feet in oil to keep them soft.

If people's feet hurt, they are less likely to get enough exercise by walking. Foot problems can also lead to back pain and joint trouble by not walking correctly, she said.

Smith began working at the foot care clinics two years ago, after burning out on a 36-year career as an emergency room and recovery room nurse in Springfield and Ripley County hospitals. She calls her new assignment "awesome" as she sees many of the same clients each month.

"I have met the neatest people," Smith said.

Besides the foot care clinics, the office on aging provides a long list of other services to seniors. Alton Senior Center Administrator Pam Simpson said the center now is helping seniors file income taxes, and can advise them on tax credits they may qualify for.

Southwest Missouri Office on Aging provides services through 38 senior centers in a 17-county area.

The agency serves seniors age 60 and older and their families. Seniors qualify for services on the basis of need, not income.

Clients have the opportunity to contribute toward the cost of their services, but services are not affected by their ability to pay.

For information on the foot clinics, call the Southwest Missouri Office on Aging at 888-796-6260, Thayer Fun and Friends Senior Center at 417-264-7354 or Alton Senior Center at 417-778-7342.