10 Reasons Why Seniors Walk with a Shuffling Gait

shuffling gaitAs some people age, they may begin shuffling or dragging their feet when they walk. They may not even notice they’re doing this. Even your constant reminders to pick up their feet when they walk may not be enough for them to remember to walk correctly. That’s because they’re not doing it on purpose. Something is causing it to happen – and whatever it is shouldn’t be ignored, since shuffling significantly increases the risk of falls.

The first step in helping your senior walk more safely is to determine the root cause. The shuffling could be caused by weak hips and/or leg muscles, arthritis pain in joints, or loss of flexibility in the feet, making it hard to flex them normally. It might also be related to a decreased ability to maintain balance, decreased vision that makes it hard to see, fear because of a recent fall or stumble, or even slow reaction time when unbalanced. In addition, the root problem could stem from medication side effects, poorly-fitting shoes or slippers, or slippery floors.

While it may not seem that failing to pick up your feet when walking is important, it can be a very dangerous practice among the elderly, since it puts the individual at a much greater risk of falling. When feet slide instead of being lifted, they can easily trip on rugs, door thresholds, or uneven surfaces. Shoes can catch on the ground, and the narrow stance of shuffling feet makes a person more unbalanced than if s/he had a normal walking stance.

If your older adult has begun to walk with a shuffle, it’s important to schedule an appointment with his or her doctor to look into the matter. The cause could be something as simple as slippery floors, or as serious as dementia or Parkinson’s disease.

In summary, the following 10 issues could lead to a shuffling gait:

  1. Weak hips and leg muscles
  2. Arthritis pain in joints
  3. Loss of flexibility in feet, making it hard to flex them normally
  4. Lower ability to maintain balance
  5. Decreased vision, making it hard to see
  6. Fear because of a recent stumble or fall
  7. Slow reaction time when unbalanced, which increases fear of falling
  8. Medication side effects
  9. Worn or poorly-fitting shoes or slippers
  10. Slippery floors

If you’ve noticed that your senior has begun dragging his or her feet when walking, start by looking into the 10 reasons mentioned above to see if the cause might be something obvious and easily correctable. For example, you might only need to replace an old pair of shoes that are now too loose. If none of these issues are the cause behind the problem, ask the doctor to do a thorough check-up to identify the reason behind this new shuffling behavior. After determining the cause, the doctor will then be better able to make an appropriate recommendation for how to improve the situation going forward.