Why Aging Feet Need Special Care
Footwear is an important consideration for all walks of life, but particularly important for the aging foot. As we age, we can experience a variety of health conditions and ailments which affect the feet and choosing the right walking shoe can make a world of difference. If you choose the wrong footwear you may be at risk of varying consequences, including but not limited to; an increased falls risk, fractures, foot pain, corns, ulcers, bunions and much more. In this article, we will explore features to look for in the best shoes for seniors, common foot ailments for the elderly, diabetic feet, features to avoid when purchasing shoes and a list of five brands we recommend for seniors.
Footwear Features to consider when Choosing The Best Walking Shoes for Seniors
There are many features to consider when purchasing a new pair off shoes for seniors, these include; Stability, comfort, convenience, support, cushioning, fit and protection. Let’s take a closer look at why these features are important when choosing the right footwear.
- Fit – The fit of a shoe should be your number one priority. If the shoe does not fit well, it can cause various problems and pathologies over time. The fit should take into consideration; the size of the shoe, the width, depth and length of the toe box, the fit around the ankle, as well as the midfoot.
- Support – A supportive shoe will have the following features; A strong heel counter, flexibility where the toes bend and a sturdy sole through the midfoot. These features will help to support and protect the foot from potential injuries.
- Stability – When considering footwear for the elderly, stable shoes are imperative for prevention of falls. A shoe that is too high or has a rocker bottom may be too unstable for someone with a falls risk.
- Cushioning – The aging foot may experience an ailment referred to as fat pad atrophy or loss of the fat padding. This means that the bones of the foot have less natural cushioning at both the heel and the ball of the foot, so it becomes important that the shoe provides this cushioning and protection for the foot and bones. Cushioning can also provide shock absorption for the elderly foot.
- Slip Resistant Sole – Another very important feature to consider is a slip resistant sole. Again, with the falls risk becoming higher as we lose muscle strength, proprioception and stability, we need to ensure our shoes provide the strong platform we may lack. A rubber sole may assist with adequate traction.
- Upper – The upper of the shoe should be made from soft and flexible materials, to allow for toe deformities such as bunions or hammer toes. The upper should also be breathable material, with minimal seams to ensure no rubbing and blistering.
Common Foot Problems in Older Adults
We know that correct footwear is crucial, but what are some of the foot problems that require particular footwear choices? Below we discuss these ailments, and what they mean for your footwear.
- Degeneration of the bones and joints or osteoarthritis – OA can be very painful in varying areas of the feet. The pain is best managed with medication, sometimes orthotics and of course, appropriately supportive footwear.
- Corns and callus – Callous is build up of hard skin, as a result of pressure to the feet. Usually callous does not cause pain to the feet. Corns are a core of hard skin, caused by localized pressure, and can be quite painful. Corns and callus are common across all ages, but can especially cause a burden to the elderly in terms of mobility and function.
- Bunions – Bunions are common in the elderly and can be very difficult to fit into shoes. Bunions are a deformity that occur to the first/big toe joint. The big toe begins to deviate toward the lesser toes. As the first toe joint is imperative for propulsion during gait, bunions can cause a variety of biomechanical issues, leading to pain and reduction in mobility. Orthotics, surgery and strengthening of the feet can all help to improve the pain, however, footwear plays a large role the preservation of the joint as well as general everyday comfort. The upper of the shoe must be flexible and allow for the bunion to fit without constant rubbing and discomfort.
- Fallen arches or flat feet – As we age, our bodies change in many ways, including muscular atrophy/wastage, ligament laxity and bony changes. All of these changes in the body can lead to a change in foot posture, or a collapsed arch. Flat feet can be asymptomatic, pain free and completely functional, but they can also be linked to varying pathologies of the feet.
- Hammertoes – Hammertoes are common among the elderly population. They occur due to imbalances in the strength of soft tissues that assist in straightening the toes. Other factors that can contribute to this are; poorly fitting footwear, trauma to the toes and some diseases. Well-fitting footwear with a flexible and soft upper is an absolute must for someone with hammertoes, as friction or pressure to the toes can cause corns and pain.
- Plantar fasciitis – Although plantar fasciitis is more common in middle-aged people, it can strike the elderly too. Plantar fasciitis is inflammation in the muscle responsible for the arch of the foot. This often means a painful heel. Someone who has plantar fasciitis may require an orthotic or a shoe designed with more support, this will depend on their foot type and the severity of the condition.
How does diabetes in the elderly affect shoe choice?
Diabetes can have some dramatic effects on the feet, including loss of feeling and restriction of oxygenated blood flow, which can lead to poor healing. A great footwear choice for an elderly person with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes should include the following features;
- A soft upper, such as neoprene, to ensure no friction or rubbing on the foot
- A wide toe box to ensure plenty of space for the forefoot
- A velcro strap to ensure the shoe is firm, but not too tight on the dorsum (top) of the foot. This is also easier for an elderly person to fasten, when compared with lacing.
Of course the shoe would also be slip resistant, supportive, comfortable and well fitted to the diabetic foot.
Things to avoid when buy shoes for seniors
Now that we have discussed all the features of a good shoe for a senior, what about the features we need to avoid? Again, we must take into consideration the common ailments and pathologies of the elderly. Some of the features to avoid when choosing footwear for the elderly include;
- A high heel and/or rocker bottom – Both of these features can create an unstable base, which needs to be considered for the elderly as they may be at risk of falls. Flat shoes can present mechanical issues, so best to go for a shoe that is right between flat and high heeled.
- Lace ups – While shoes that lace up will provide a more secure fit, they are often difficult for elderly people to tie up. Take into consideration back pain, obesity and flexibility, all these factors make it more difficult to reach all the way down to the feet and laces.
- Narrow toe box – A narrow toe box is a feature that the elderly, and everyone else should avoid. Why? Because your toes require space inside the shoe. If the toes and forefoot are compressed, pathologies such as corns, callous, neuromas etc may occur.
- Hard upper – Leather uppers will not be breathable and can cause rubbing and friction to hammer toes or bunions. Look for a breathable mesh upper in your next shoe.
- Sandals/thongs/flip flops – Again, the issue with these types of footwear is that they present a falls risk for the elderly. Both options also provide very minimal support for the ankle and midfoot.
- Minimal grip on the sole – Look for a shoe that has grooves in the sole, this will reduce the risk of slipping or falling.
What are some brands Foot Centre Group recommends for the elderly?
With all of the above in careful consideration, we have compiled a list of our top 5 shoe brands for the elderly;
- Dr. Comfort
- Hush puppies
- New Balance
If you are unsure about the correct footwear choice, we recommend a consultation with one of our highly trained professionals in the clinic. Book online at www.footcentregroup.com.au or call us now on 9553 0044.