A Senior’s Guide to Getting Rid of Swollen Ankles

Preventing swollen ankles in older adults

Are you concerned because you’ve noticed your senior parent has swollen ankles more often than not? Swollen ankles in older adults are common, but unfortunately, it can be dangerous. This condition not only causes discomfort and a feeling of heaviness, but can also limit mobility and increase risk of falling.

Taking care of our physical health as we age is essential. It helps us maintain mobility, keeps us active, and  improves our overall well-being. If you notice that your older parent has swollen ankles, it’s important to understand the cause, then help them make the necessary lifestyle changes to reduce and prevent future swelling. 

Causes of swollen ankles in older adults

When someone’s legs, ankles, or feet retain fluid, it results in swollen ankles. The medical term for this is edema – it’s fairly common in seniors, and there are several underlying factors, including:

  • A sedentary or inactive lifestyle. It’s typical to become less active as we age, but a completely sedentary lifestyle can harm one’s health.
  • Vascular conditions that affect the body’s circulatory system.
  • Chronic kidney disease.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis. 
  • Congestive heart failure. 
  • During the healing phase after surgery, when a person is mostly immobile. 

Before making any lifestyle changes to address your loved one’s swollen ankles, it’s important to speak with their doctor so you can understand what is causing the edema. In many cases, the cause will determine which lifestyle changes are appropriate because there is no one-size-fits-all cure. 

Lifestyle changes that can reduce swelling in the ankles 

Stay hydrated. Is your parent drinking enough water every day? Ensure they get enough fluids by setting digital reminders or giving them a large water bottle to refill throughout the day. Dehydration is a major reason why the body retains excess fluid. 

Check that their shoes aren’t too tight. Although your loved one may insist that their shoes fit properly, it’s always a good idea to double check. Shoes that are too tight can affect their circulation. 

Be more active. Sitting around all day can cause fluid to gather in the feet and ankles, so to prevent this, we recommend daily walks and other forms of exercise compatible with your loved one’s mobility. 

Wear compression socks or stockings. You can buy these at most pharmacies, but check with your senior parent’s doctor first for their recommendation.  

Keep their legs elevated when sitting down. Using a comfortable ottoman or footstool that they can use to prop their legs up is a good way to keep fluid from gathering in the ankles. 

Eat more magnesium. Whether it’s a supplement taken daily or via magnesium-rich foods like leafy greens, whole grains, legumes, and seeds, increasing magnesium intake can help prevent water retention in the body. 

Simple home exercises for swollen ankles

Your senior parent doesn’t need to visit a gym or even leave the house to do these simple exercises:

  • Single knee to chest – Lie down on the back and slowly bend one knee, bringing it up towards the chest while keeping the other leg flat. Alternate bringing each knee to the chest one at a time for 10 repetitions on each side. 
  • Butt squeezes – This exercise can be done lying down or sitting upright in a chair. Squeeze and tense the glute muscles as hard as you can, then slowly release. Be sure not to hold your breath and continue breathing normally. Aim for three sets of 10 repetitions. 
  • Ankle pumps – Lie down on your back and elevate your feet. Point the toes up towards the head then down in the opposite direction, using only your ankles to make the full movement. Try to do 20 repetitions daily. 

If you need help caring for your elderly parents and would like to know more about our assisted living communities across New Jersey, please visit our website at: https://umcommunities.org.

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