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10 reasons why older adults walk with a shuffling gait

At Bold, we talk a lot about recognizing the signs that can lead to falls, but addressing a shuffling walk is also important. DailyCaring shares the top 10 reasons why people shuffle while they walk and what to do about it.

Don’t ignore a shuffling walk in older adults

You might notice that your older adult shuffles or drags their feet when they walk.

And even if you constantly remind them, they’re still not picking up their feet when walking. In fact, they may not even notice that they’re doing it.

So why do people shuffle when they walk? The short answer is that they’re not doing it on purpose.

When someone starts shuffling when they walk, something is causing that to happen. To help your older adult walk more safely, the first step is to find the cause.

We share the 10 top reasons why older adults shuffle when they walk, explain why shuffling significantly increases fall risk, and suggest what to do if your older adult has a shuffling walk.

10 top reasons why people shuffle when they walk

  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. Decreased 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

A shuffling walk increases fall risk

It might seem like not picking up feet when walking isn’t that important.

But if someone is shuffling, dragging, or generally not lifting their feet off the ground while walking, they’re at a much greater risk of falling.

Shuffling is a common cause of falls because sliding feet can more easily trip on rugs, door thresholds, or even slightly uneven surfaces.

And older adults who shuffle when they walk are more likely to stumble because their shoes can catch on the ground.

Plus, the narrow stance of shuffling feet makes someone more unbalanced than if they had a regular walking stance.

What do to about an older adult’s shuffling walk

An unsteady gait or shuffling walk could be caused by something as simple as slippery floors or as serious as dementia or Parkinson’s disease.

So if your older adult has started shuffling their feet when walking, it’s important to schedule an appointment with their doctor to find out what’s causing it.

To prepare for the doctor’s appointment, check to see if any of these top 10 reasons could be causing them to shuffle their feet.

Unless the reason is obvious and easily corrected, like replacing a too-old pair of shoes that are loose, it’s best to have the doctor do a thorough check-up.

That will help them identify the cause of the shuffling behavior. Once the reason is known, the doctor can make recommendations for how to improve the situation.

Next step: Try gentle exercises that increase flexibility and improve balance.

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