Footwear is the foundation of a safe, active, healthy lifestyle. But many elderly people are wearing shoes that can be dangerous and cause falls.

You might think of a frail grandmother tottering unsteadily in 2-inch heels. Or an elderly man shuffling to his bedroom in a worn, sloppy pair of ancient slippers. Another image is the pair of beige orthopedic shoes that are functional but not at all fashionable, and are negatively associated with the term “old people shoes.”

Today’s seniors are busy, active and fashionable and can benefit from shoes that can prevent falls, helping to keep them safe throughout their day. When you are buying shoes for a loved one, you need to make sure that the shoe matches their lifestyle while keeping them safe.

Today’s seniors are busy, active and fashionable and can benefit from shoes that can prevent falls.

The danger of falls in the elderly

The risk of falls increases as we age. According to the National Institute on Aging, one in three people over the age of 65 will fall each year. These falls can cause permanent damage resulting in deteriorating health. Falls, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are the number one cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries in the elderly.

There are many reasons why seniors fall. Elderly people may have less bone density and decreased muscle strength leading to more severe injuries from a fall.

A fall will often result in injuries or fractures to the:

  • Head
  • Shoulders
  • Forearms
  • Spine
  • Pelvis
  • Hip

Falls are frightening for seniors and can result in a long hospital stay and a loss of independence.

The fear of falling often leads to decreased activity. A senior who is afraid of falling may fear participating in physical activities. The loss of physical activity leads to weaker bones, muscles, loss of coordination and balance. This puts the senior at an increased risk for falls.

Helpful Tip: Instead of recommending that the senior in your life stays inside and reduces activities to prevent falls, plan for how they can decrease the risk of injury while being active.

Falls can often be prevented by simple safety modifications, including choosing appropriate footwear.

How shoes contribute to falls

An old saying goes “keep your feet where they belong, on the floor.” That is the goal of proper shoes for the elderly.

Shoes are more than a fashion statement or a way to complete one’s outfit. Shoes can cause or prevent a fall. As we age our feet lose the natural padding from the heel and ball of the foot. Arches may become flatter and less flexible. Aging feet become wider and longer. The pair of shoes that fit perfectly ten years ago may no longer be a good fit. The Health in Aging Foundation reports that three out of four seniors are wearing shoes that are too small.

Our feet are made to flex and spread as we walk to maintain our balance. A shoe that is too tight will inhibit adequate movement. Loose, floppy shoes become a tripping hazard. That’s why it is so important to choose a proper shoe for the elderly to prevent falls.

Top characteristics of the ideal shoes for seniors

  • Cushion the foot
  • Support arches
  • Protect feet from rough surfaces
  • Maintain a comfortable temperature
  • Protect from moisture build-up
  • Provide a strong grip on different surfaces
  • Are comfortable
  • Are easy to put on
  • Offer a solid foundation for feet, legs, and body

According to the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA), the right footwear improves balance and can prevent falls especially among older people.

No matter what setting or occasion you are heading to it is vital that you have the proper footwear.

Types of shoes for seniors

Being active is one of the keys to staying healthy. No matter our age, proper fitting shoes for seniors put us on the path to maintaining our physical health and enjoying our busy lives. Here are the top four types of shoes that every senior should own.

Walking shoes for seniors

Walking is one of the easiest forms of physical activity. Almost everyone can participate regardless of their level of physical fitness. A good walking shoe can make the difference between enjoying a leisurely afternoon stroll or coming home with aching feet.

Walking shoes for seniors should have a non-skid, rubber sole. The shoe should be light and easy to put on. Walking shoes need to fit securely on the foot and not be too tight. Shoes with adjustable laces or straps will provide the best fit.

Winter footwear

Depending on the local climate, it’s easy to feel trapped inside during the winter months. Fear of falling on ice or snow can keep seniors from being active. A recent study by the Journal of American Geriatric Society participants over 3 months. The seniors were an average age of 74 and reported 714 slips and 62 falls while outside during the winter!

Look for footwear that helps your loved one feel safer when the weather is poor. Rubber soled boots or high-top shoes that are easy to put on provide the best traction when they are out. Laces or Velcro straps can help them tighten their boots to get a secure fit.

Elderly people may also experience decreased sensation in their feet. Make sure that the footwear provides adequate warmth as well as protection from moisture. Wet and cold feet can impair balance.

The seniors were an average age of 74 and reported 714 slips and 62 falls while outside during the winter.

Beach-safe shoes for elderly

A day at the beach may have you thinking of flimsy, slip-on sandals. These place seniors at a higher risk for falls. They don't have to wear lace-up shoes on a hot summer day but they should still adhere to the principles of good shoe safety.

A good pair of footwear should fit snugly enough so their foot doesn’t slide from side to side. Their heel should also be snug in the shoe and not slip up and out of the back. Adjustable heavy strap sandals that hold the foot in place with a firm rubber sole can help keep feet steady while enjoying the warmer weather.

Non-slip house shoes for elderly

Seniors might be staying at home to try and prevent falls. But according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons , most fractures are caused by falls in the home. Home is where we need to be most aware of wearing proper shoes!

Say goodbye to loose-fitting, well-worn slippers and no more sliding down the hallways in your stocking feet. The stairs, bathroom, and kitchen are where most falls happen in the home.

The bathroom and kitchen can have slippery or wet floors that are hazardous. A Japanese study reported in the Industrial Health Journal found that a rubber-soled shoe with a patterned bottom showed better slip resistance than other types of shoes.

Indoor shoes can be soft, comfortable and easy to put on. But most importantly they need to fit right and have a non-slip sole.

Expert tips on buying the best shoes for seniors

Shoe shopping can either be a well-loved excursion or a dreaded chore for a senior. Always focus on safety and comfort first. Then find the look and colors they’ll like. Here are six tips that can help with finding the best shoe for seniors to keep them steady on their feet.

1. Buy the right size. Feet change as we age. Feet can become flatter and longer resulting in a change in shoe size. Have your loved one’s feet professionally measured before investing in new shoes.

2. Shop in the afternoon. Our feet also change size and shape throughout the day. The ideal time to find the best fit for your shoes is in the late afternoon. Feet are the most swollen and larger typically in mid-afternoon.

3. Bring in your socks. Socks, orthotics, and insoles change how a shoe fits. To ensure that the new shoes are not too tight, make sure they’re being tried on the way they’ll be worn. For example, if your dad wears a thick pair of wool socks at home every day, that’s what he should wear when buying a pair of indoor shoes.

4. Try on both shoes. Most people have one foot that is slightly bigger than the other. It is recommended by the American Podiatrist Medical Association top shop for the larger foot. A slightly larger shoe on the smaller foot is safer than a too tight shoe on the larger foot.

5. Walk around. Hum the popular song "These Boots are Made for Walking" while at the shoe store. Then remember to do that with new shoes. Shoes need to be comfortable and fit well when moving around. A brand-new pair of shoes should not require a “break-in” period. If the shoes don't feel steady and comfortable in the store, they aren't worth buying.

6. Give the shoe the 1-2-3 test. The APMA offers this simple test to see if a shoe will help to improve your balance and prevent falls.
Step 1: Check the heel, press on both sides of the heel area. It should maintain its shape.
Step 2: Check the toe, bend the shoe up at the toe end. There should be some bend and flexibility.
Step 3: Check the middle. When you try to twist the shoe there should be no bending in the middle.

Don’t let a fear of falling keep your loved ones from enjoying their senior years. Choosing the best shoe to prevent falls can allow them to be independent, active and safe.

Sources:

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Guidelines for Preventing Falls
https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/staying-healthy/guidelines-for-preventing-falls
American Podiatric Medicine Association: Balance-Boosting Footwear Tips for Older People
https://www.apma.org/Patients/HealthyFeetTips.cfm?ItemNumber=10050
Canadian Family Physician: Falls in the Elderly
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3135440/
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: STEADI – Older Adult Fall Prevention
https://www.cdc.gov/steadi/patient.html
Health in Aging: Foot Problems
https://www.healthinaging.org/aging-and-health-a-to-z/topic:foot-problems/
Industrial Health: National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health Development of a High Slip-resistant Footwear
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4246531/
National Institute of Aging: Prevent Falls and Fractures
https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/prevent-falls-and-fractures