Footwear Safety for Seniors

Published: August 05, 2014

The footwear seniors choose, including shoes and slippers (or lack thereof) can affect the risk of suffering a fall. In one study, almost 52 percent of those that fell said that at the time, they were either barefoot (18 percent), wearing socks with no shoes (7 percent) or wearing slippers (27 percent). In addition, those that fell with inappropriate footwear had more serious consequences than those with proper footwear.

The sensory feedback information that is provided to your feet can be adversely affected by poor footwear. Shoes with a softer sole can alter balance control during walking. Walking barefoot on in socks indoors has been shown to increase the risk of falls. Research also shows that older people should wear shoes with low heels and firm slip-resistant soles both inside and outside of the home. If seniors have poor sensation, poor circulation and/or poor healing such as with diabetes, wearing shoes is extremely important in wound prevention as well.

A safe shoe includes the following features:

  • Shoe body/upper – firm and high to enclose the foot for stability
  • Laces/Velcro – maintain snug fit to hold shoe onto the foot while walking
  • Heel – a beveled heel to prevent slipping and a broad flared heel to maximize contact with the ground
  • Sole – a textured sole prevents slipping. Soles with greater contact area provide more grip. This is also important to consider with slippers as they are often worn in bathrooms which may have a slippery floor.
  • Midsole – a thin, firm midsole will allow the wearer to feel the ground underneath
  • Toe box – if the portion of the shoe that holds your toes is too tight, bunions, hammer toes, corns or calluses can develop
  • Material – a leather shoe will stretch over the foot and form to its shape. Leather can also be shaped to accommodate bunions or hammer toes.

These features should be avoided when selecting shoes:

  • Loose shoe body/upper – a soft or stretched or open body make the foot slide in the shoe
  • High heels or narrow heels – these can cause instability when walking
  • Sole – a slippery or worn shoe is a balance hazard. Do not choose sticky soles. Soles that are too thick do not allow seniors to feel the ground.
  • Lining – any lining in the shoe should have only a few seams, especially over bony areas, as these can cause irritation
  • No laces/Velcro or slip-ons or slippers – Footwear that is designed to just slip on is unsafe as it is too easy for the foot to slip out and allow a fall.

If you are having difficulty putting your shoes on, medical equipment stores, the internet and pharmacies carry elastic shoelaces, sock aides and long handle shoe horns. Occupational therapy can help you learn to dress more easily, including putting on shoes.

Safe footwear is just one factor in reducing falls. For more information on fall prevention, contact physical and occupational therapy. If you have decreased balance and need rehabilitation intervention, the therapy on the staff of Passavant Community can help. They are available on an outpatient basis by calling (724) 452-3492 or via home health services at (877) 862-6659.


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