Fall Prevention and Footwear: A Ground-up Guide

Foot Care and Fall Prevention

Every year, one third of all Americans aged 65 and up will experience a fall, a statistic that balloons to more than half of all seniors 80 and older.

Falls are one of the leading causes of hospitalization among older Americans, and the recovery process becomes longer and more difficult with age, leading to a cascade of challenges that impact a senior’s ability to live independently and remain active in their community.

While the figures are daunting, there are many simple, small changes any senior can make to their daily lives to better mitigate their risk of falling.  In this blog, we will discuss how shoe choice can help seniors stay on their feet.

Photo courtesy of Wallyir, via morguefile.com

Photo courtesy of Wallyir, via morguefile.com

What Types of Shoes Increase the Risk of Falls?

Some shoes designs make it harder for wearers to detect changes in the ground beneath them, offer poor traction, or encourage the wearer to develop unsteady gaits.  Shoes with the following features should be avoided whenever possible:

  • Loose, backless or heavily worn down slippers are one of the most common causes of falls among seniors, as they oftentimes slip off while the wearer is trying to maintain their balance
  • Slip on shoes like flip-flops and slingbacks can shift forward while walking, getting caught under the wearer’s other foot mid-stride and causing a fall
  • Shoes with heels higher than one inch, or shoes with very narrow heels can shift a person’s center of balance to a more unstable position and increase the chance of a twisted ankle
  • Older shoes with worn down treads or poor traction out of the box should be avoided, as they increase the chance of falling on wet surfaces like bathroom tiles or wet grass

What Makes a Good Fall-Resistant Shoe?

Choosing shoes that fit the foot snuggly, provide a solid base and will remain firmly attached during sudden motion are key elements of preventing most falls.  When shopping, be on the lookout for the following:

  • Shoes with heels lower than one inch
  • Shoes with stiff, slip-resistant soles
  • Shoes with high backs or collars that provide good ankle support

Around-the House Fall Prevention

The majority of falls occur within the home, where many people are accustomed to not wearing shoes at all.  Rather than going barefoot, fall prevention experts suggest having a pair of “house shoes” you can wear indoors without fear of tracking sidewalk grime inside.  Experts also advise senior to never walk around the home in only socks or stockings, as these garments greatly increase the chance of slipping indoors.

When looking for a good pair of “house shoes,” look for the following:

  • Velcro fasteners might not be stylish, but they encourage the wearer to properly affix the shoe to their foot, rather than laced house shoes, which people commonly tie loosely and then use as slip-ons
  • House shoes with wider openings for feet also encourage more frequent use, especially for people with limited mobility
  • Since these shoes are worn throughout the day, it is important that they be made of breathable fabric to cut down on foot moisture and limit the wearer’s risk of infections and other conditions that favor warm, wet conditions.

For examples of a good house shoe, take a look at Cosy Feet, a UK-based shoe company that sells easy-to-wear, wide-mouthed shoes with Velcro fasteners that allow for a snug fit regardless of foot size and shape.

Foot Care and Fall Prevention

As we age, our bodies change over time, especially our feet.  Since we spend so much of our lives on our feet, even small changes to the shape of a foot or minor discomfort can alter a person’s natural gait over time, lowering stability and increasing the chance of a fall.

To that end, regularly cutting toenails to prevent discomfort, washing feet daily and moisturizing feet to avoid infections and other skin conditions are all important elements of ensuring comfort and preventing bad walking habits from developing.  Finally, it is important to consult with your primary care physician or a podiatrist any time you feel something is wrong with your feet.  By intervening early, it is possible to correct developing gait issues and reduce the risk of falls.