How to Improve Leg Circulation in Elderly Patients: 6 Tips Every Caregiver Should Know

Many elderly patients complain of cold hands and feet and numbness or swelling in their extremities—all classic signs of poor venous blood flow, or circulation. While poor circulation is indeed common in seniors, there are plenty of steps that caregivers can take to help mitigate it. Read on to discover why circulation slows down as we age and how to improve venous blood flow in the leg in elderly patients.

Why Aging Causes Poor Circulation

As your body ages, numerous changes take place that can slow venous blood flow. The heart may develop fibrous tissues and fat deposits, the walls might thicken or the valves might stiffen. 

elderly woman holding cup hot coffee


As you age, the receptors that monitor your blood pressure also become less sensitive, making it difficult to regulate your blood flow as closely. The walls of your capillaries thicken, and the arteries thicken and stiffen as well. Changes also occur in the blood itself: Total water volume in your body decreases, which in turn reduces the volume of the blood, and your red blood cells are replaced at a slower rate.

Other factors may also impact venous circulation in elderly patients. Diabetes is a known cause of poor venous circulation, since it causes blood vessels to narrow and harden. Compromising lifestyle habits—such as smoking, a bad diet or lack of exercise—can also contribute to poor circulation no matter your age, and the effect is only magnified in elderly patients. Finally, health conditions or a family history of poor venous circulation may also contribute to sluggish blood flow.

How to Help Improve Circulation

As a caregiver, there are several steps you can take to improve venous circulation in legs of elderly patients. Here are six strategies to try:

Encourage a Healthier Lifestyle

Whatever exercise is appropriate to the patient’s mobility level, whether it’s a brisk walk or wheelchair aerobics, will help get their heart pumping and their blood flowing. In general, eating a healthy, nutrient-rich diet with lots of lean protein and fruits and vegetables will also encourage better cardiovascular health. Certain foods also seem to act as mild blood thinners, including turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, cayenne peppers, vitamin E and garlic.

Suggest Use of an Elevating Leg Pillow

If done properly, elevating your legs will increase venous blood flow in the veins and lower the risk of blood clots. Supporting the legs on a leg elevation pillow can be done while the patient is reading, watching TV, sleeping or otherwise resting, making it a great choice to conveniently encourage better venous blood circulation. Raising the legs encourages blood and other fluids to flow back towards the core, which can also reduce pain and act as leg swelling treatment.

woman applying elastic compression bandage


Invest in Compression Gear

Compression gear encourages blood flow by gently squeezing your extremities to push the blood to flow back to the heart. Compression gear is a great choice for those who sit all day—such as the elderly—especially if they have limited mobility, since compression gear passively encourages better circulation without any effort on the wearer’s part once they put it on. Compression gear can be tight, so if you and your patients have trouble getting it on, look for donning aids.

Experiment with Hydrotherapy

Hydrotherapy (a.k.a. water therapy) is the therapeutic use of water. While it may sound fancy, if you’ve ever applied a cold ice pack to a sprain or used a steamy hot bath to loosen up sore muscles, then you’ve used hydrotherapy. In terms of circulation, hydrotherapy can encourage blood flow if you alternate hot and cold: The heat expands vessels and fills them with blood, while the cold contracts them, causing the blood to flow. Hydrotherapy is inexpensive and easy to use, making it an ideal therapy to experiment with.

Keep Them Warm

When the body is cold, vessels constrict, making venous circulation even harder to regulate. To combat this situation, make sure your patients stay at a comfortable temperature at all times. If you notice them wearing multiple layers in summer or constantly asking for a blanket, it might be time to turn the heat up a couple of degrees. That being said, overheating can also lead to its own set of health problems, so the key is to keep your patients at a moderate, comfortable temperature.

 nurse giving pill

Remind Them to Take Their Medicine

If your patient’s doctor has prescribed blood thinners or other pharmaceuticals to improve their cardiovascular health, then make sure they’re taking the medication at the designated dosage and schedule. If they have truly bad cardiovascular health and circulation, medications can be a huge help and maybe even save their lives, so don’t let them neglect it.

From a leg elevation pillow to hydrotherapy, there are many ways to help your elderly patients treat poor venous blood flow. Follow these six strategies to help seniors improve their blood flow and regain their quality of life.

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