It’s a tough situation, your mother or father begins to trip because they can’t pick up their feet and you know sooner or later they are going to break a hip or worse. What makes the matter worse is that they won’t listen to reason because their worried about losing their independence. What to do? Tripping is often caused by the shoes that they wear. Dr. Carol Frey, director of the Foot and Ankle Center at Orthopedic Hospital in Los Angeles, conducted a year-long study regarding safe footwear for seniors. Her research showed that in many cases shoes that are generally considered “safer footwear” were often to blame for falls that caused injuries. Dr. Frey studied 185 men and women over 55 who had fallen and injured themselves during a one-year period. Among those 65 and older, shoes were frequently at fault for the falls that resulted in the injuries. Your parent’s shoes could be contributing to their stumbling. Athletic shoes are mainly to blame. Sixty percent of those wearing sneakers when they fell said they fell because their shoes “caught or dragged” on the floor and 40 percent said their athletic shoes were “too slippery.” What shoes should older people wear? Doctors recommend:
Never wear shoes with slippery or worn outer soles. Also avoid shoes with smooth leather or plastic soles, which can be slippery on carpets, wood and tile floors, and wet surfaces. Some athletic shoes made with synthetic soles, which may be ideal for exercising in a gym, can be extremely slippery on a damp or wet surface. Remove any tripping obstacles, even a low lying rug can be tripped on.
Avoid wearing shoes and slippers that are loose or ill-fitting.
When walking on carpets, avoid wearing shoes with heavy rubber lugs that can catch on carpets, especially when they are worn by people who barely pick up their feet when they walk. The rubber tips on the toes of running shoes can also cause a stumble on a carpeted surface.
For an all-around shoe, consider walking shoes, which provide good traction and support but do not have heavy soles or rubber over the toes.
Although shoes with a lot of cushioning can make you feel as if you are walking on air, they can also make an older person unstable and are best avoided unless they are at risk of diabetic foot ulcers.
Shoes that tie are safer than shoes that slip on the feet. Laced shoes can be adjusted to accommodate orthotics, braces and swelling of the feet. For those who lack dexterity, consider replacing cloth laces with elastic ones that hold the shoe firmly on the foot, but stretch enough to allow shoes to be slipped on and off without tying or untying the laces.
The wrong shoes can mean falls for the elderly. Experts recommend shoes that lace up and have light rubber soles, and warn of possible hazards of the ones shown below. Slippers can fall off. Shoes with smooth leather soles can slide. Running shoes with thick rubber soles that extend over the toe area can stick to the carpet and cause falls. If your parent can’t bend over to lace the shoe consider Velcro straps.
Leg muscle weakness, illnesses, medication side effects, vision problems and problems with proprioception (proprioception is the ability to know where your body’s position and movement is in relation to the environment) are common factors that can lead to balancing problem in the elderly. Mary Tinetti, MD says, “The nerves in their feet are not giving their brains the message of where they are.” “A cane or walking stick gives input to your brain of where your feet are through your hands,” she adds. Balance can be measured by the time patients can stand on both feet in tandem stance (heel to toe) and on one foot (single stance); normal is greater or equal to 5 seconds. A walker may provide similar input to the brain. But those whose balance is compromised enough to require a walker may not experience the same level of effect. But walking devices may be a hard sell to older adults. They’re associated with aging and dependence in an elderly person’s mind. Judy Stevens, Ph.D., epidemiologist at the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control says, “The best way to motivate older adults is to appeal to their desire to remain independent, rather than to talk about the dire risks of falling.” Allways consider physical therapy, strengthing can lead to years of independence for your parent.