Swollen extremities can be uncomfortable, but this symptom can also point to a serious underlying condition, such as congestive heart failure, an injury or medication side effects. Veteran caregivers share their tips for monitoring a senior’s edema, keeping the swelling down and improving circulation.

Preventing and Managing Edema in Seniors

“Is your loved one immobilized (i.e. bedridden or wheelchair bound)? If so, swelling could be caused by fluid building up in their extremities due to immobility. You can try elevating their feet, so they are above their heart and see if it helps. Varicose veins can contribute to fluid backup too. HOWEVER, swelling can also indicate a more serious condition, like congestive heart, liver or kidney failure to mention a few. If swelling persists or worsens, I would definitely recommend making an appointment with the doctor just to be on the safe side.” –yaya51

“The lady I care for is 89, and she had swollen ankles and feet. Soon, her entire lower legs suddenly began to swell. She refused to go to the doctor, but eventually relented. The doctor immediately admitted her into the hospital. After much investigation, it turned out that she had fallen and suffered a hairline fracture in her hip. She didn’t want to tell any of her caregivers that she had gotten up out of bed to use the toilet without calling for assistance. Then to make matters worse, her cat had scratched her leg the previous week, resulting in cellulitis. That fracture coupled with water retention and cellulitis made her feet and legs swell. Swelling could be from any number of issues, so don’t wait to take your loved one to the doctor if it occurs suddenly!” –Calicaregiver

“My mom has congestive heart failure (CHF) and has swelling in her legs and ankles. There are times when her feet and toes get a purplish look and I have her start wiggling those toes and doing ankle pumps, which actually helps improve the circulation to these areas. Mom usually goes barefoot, so I can see the color change. She has Raynaud’s syndrome in her hands and it seems like it must be related. We elevate her feet, do exercises, and take alternating Tylenol and Advil. She takes Lasix for fluid retention, but we need to watch the amount closely. If your loved one is having issues like these, have them see a cardiologist and get checked out.” –glasshalffull

“Excess swelling can be due to something else going on with their health. I know when my kidneys were not filtering like they should, I had swollen legs and feet at end of the day. The diabetes doctor gave me some Lasix to help get the fluid buildup out of my legs.” –lildeb

“My mother was diagnosed with congestive heart failure (CHF) in October. She had swelling in her feet and legs. At the suggestion of the home care nurse, we wrapped ace bandages around her feet and lower legs during the day to prevent the swelling from getting worse. You may want to see if you can get your loved one fitted with some type of compression stockings, as they can help with the swelling.” –klus263

“My father-in-law has swelling and discoloration in his lower legs and feet. He has no heart or blood pressure issues, but the valves in his veins are weak and gravity causes the blood to pool. Since he began wearing compression stockings, exercising more and elevating his legs, his pain, discoloration and swelling have greatly reduced. Sometimes his extremities stay a healthy color for days when he does all of the aforementioned.” –cwagner1

“If elevation doesn’t work, try tucking their feet in a cool foot bath (add Epsom salts if you want). The cold water will reduce the swelling and ease the tension in their muscles and ligaments. Once the swelling has gone down (hopefully most of it), massage their feet with plenty of peppermint-scented foot lotion and make sure you really knead the muscles and tendons to get the tension out. Elevating their feet to a 90-degree angle from their hips to increase circulation and allow fluids to drain can feel ‘undignified.’ That’s probably why many seniors refuse to do it, even if it’s only 45 degrees. It makes me feel weird, and I don’t have any real foot problems unless I overdo it on the tennis court. Now a warning: they might grow to expect the cool foot baths and the massages, so get ready.” –Eddie


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“My mom’s feet and then legs swelled so big I thought her skin would burst. It turns out it was her blood pressure medicine that was causing it. If your loved one has a wheat, corn, rice, or other food/additive intolerance or allergy, it could cause their feet/ankles to swell as well.” –Altersheim

“Ask their doctor about compression stockings. I don’t mean the ones you pick up at the pharmacy, I mean the type they are measured for. You would be surprised how much they will help the swelling. I care for a dear friend who had both his ankles broken years ago. He recently had issues with his blood pressure and swelling of his legs. He was resistant, but then decided to try the stockings. To his surprise, they made a tremendous difference. Now he swears by them and tells others how they saved his life!” –SunflowerHouse

“For someone with swollen ankles, elevating the legs, staying active in between elevation and perhaps adding a diuretic may help. The drug known as Norvasc (often used for hypertension) will also send fluid to the lower legs and ankles. It also helps to keep water away from the pericardium to prevent CHF. In cases like this, it’s always important to see a cardiologist or at least an internist with these issues.” –N1K2R3

“I have had some swelling in my feet and ankles. My massage therapist recommended using some peppermint oil (just a few drops) mixed with some vitamin E lotion or any kind of neutral oil (olive, coconut, etc.) on my extremities. I then elevate my legs above my heart on pillows.” –Sarsi27