Postural instability due to age-related changes in seniors can lead to an increased risk of falling that can be debilitating to their health, function, and overall confidence. In addition, some medications list dizziness and light-headedness as side effects, further contributing to balance problems. This instability can lead elderly individuals to be apprehensive about engaging in activities that they previously enjoyed, one of which is walking outdoors.
Walking is generally considered a low-risk exercise that combines balance, leg strengthening, and aerobic activity. It is a great way to stay physically active, regardless of age. Walking with a loved one, walking your pets, enjoying the beautiful world around you… virtually all aspects of our lives include walking as the prime mode of mobility. However, severe balance issues coupled with the fear of falling can hinder seniors who were previously active. This often leads to a decrease in activity, ultimately resulting in even more health complications.
Preparing yourself for safely walking outdoors is the best way to prevent falls and injuries from occurring, and choosing the right shoes for stability is a great place to get started.
Better understanding a shoe’s components can help you determine the best choice for your stability needs. Below we have included a brief overview of the various parts of a shoe.
Sole: This refers to the entire bottom portion of the shoe. It consists of 3 subparts:
Outer Sole: The part of the shoe that contacts the ground
Insole: Refers to the inside of the sole where the foot sits
Midsole: An optional layer between the outer sole and insole
Heel: This is the portion of the shoe that is in line with the outer sole, lying beneath your heel.
Upper: This refers to the portion of the shoe above the sole. It consists of various subparts:
Vamp: The anterior portion of the upper that covers the front of the foot
Quarters: Posterior section of the shoe that covers the heel of the foot
Toe Box: Area of the shoe where the toes are located
Tongue: Strip of material lying under the laces or closure
Throat: Base of the shoe’s tongue
Eyelets: Holes that may be a part of the vamp where shoelaces are inserted
Eyestay: Portion of the upper where eyelets are located
What to Look For
Now that you are more familiar with the different parts of a shoe, we have shared some tips for choosing the best footwear. Consider the following:
The shoe’s opening must be wide enough to ensure ease taking the footwear on and off. Make sure the closure and throat of the shoe opening are not so tight that they impede blood circulation in the feet. Also, the shoe toe box must be spacious enough so the toes can wiggle around.
Heavy shoes can be a concern for seniors with muscle weaknesses or balance issues. Heavier shoes can result in a dragging or shuffling gait for anyone with weaker legs who might have trouble lifting their feet. This, in turn, increases the risk of falling. Ideally, your shoes should be lightweight.
Traction and grip suitable for various surfaces are a must. Slip-resistant, flexible soles are highly recommended. Safe and stable shoe soles often have grooves and treads that eliminate grass, mud, or water to help prevent slipping or sliding. Soles should also be shock-absorbing to provide a softer impact on the ankles and heels.
Type of Closure
As they age, many seniors may experience decreased dexterity in their hands, or worse, suffer from arthritis. This can make tying laces or closing buckles more challenging. Velcro straps can be a game-changer, helping to open and close shoes with ease. These straps eliminate the hassle of tying laces and the fear of tripping over them if they become loose.
Shoes with added cushioning and beveled pads on the heels can help prevent sliding. Having ample arch support is also beneficial to prevent foot and lower leg injuries. Proper support can also reduce the likelihood of tripping. In addition, shoes with a high back can provide increased ankle and heel support.
Some shoes provide removable insoles if additional arch support is required. You might also want to consider custom orthotics or proprioceptive insoles.
In addition to paying attention to the shoes you wear outside, also focus on the footwear you wear at home. If you like to walk around with socks on, consider socks that have grips on the bottom. The grips will increase traction and help prevent slippage, especially on tile or wood flooring. Footwear worn at home should also have grips on the bottom, a slip-on design, and ample coverage on the top surface of the foot and toes to prevent slippage.
As you age, it becomes increasingly important to make informed lifestyle choices that help increase your stability and minimize your chances of falling, and choosing the right footwear is vital to ensuring your safety. The proper footwear can keep you on the road to a long, healthy, pain-free, and active life.
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