Barefoot Shoes for Older Adults

It is a well known and apparent fact that as we age we begin to lose our ability to balance and maintain our stability. Many of the fractures in the elderly population occur after a fall which could have been prevented if the individual’s balance was better. There are some physiological reasons for this decline in stability that can not be prevented, but there are many things individuals can do to minimize this side effect of aging. One’s quality and length of life are severely altered after a fracture. A study found the 1 year mortality rate to be 21% after a hip fracture. I would not want to roll the dice with those kind of odds. A few years ago my wife’s grandmother fractured her hip. Fortunately she beat the odds, but her quality of life was dramatically altered after the incident. Take proper measures now to ensure you or a loved one do not become part of the statistics.

Today I would like to discuss the possibility of utilizing “barefoot” shoes to increase you proprioception and ability to balance. The decline in function of our nerves is one reason for the loss of balance as we age, but another important factor is simply the lack of physical activity in many elderly. It is the old adage “use it or lose it”. Your proprioception and balance must constantly be challenged in order to maintain it.

For the most part we all walk on very flat, even surfaces, posing very little challenge to our proprioception. On top of that we tend to wear shoes with very thick, wide soles which are very stiff. These two factors are likely to blame for our decline in balance as we age. However, walking barefoot would eliminate the shoe component of this decline. Now I know you are not going to walk barefoot everywhere, and I don’t expect you to. I’m reminded of a guy in college. He literally went everywhere barefoot. So what can you do?

You can buy “barefoot” shoes. Barefoot shoes are essentially shoes with very little support and a lot of flexibility. They were originally designed for athletes. There are several different types and styles of these shoes. I will list a few I have heard of.

  • Nike “Eclipse” and “Free”
  • Terra Plana “Dopies” and “Vivo Barefoot”
  • Vibram “Five Fingers”

Some of the designs above look like regular shoes and some are very different to say the least. I would not recommend these types of shoes for someone who already has significant impairment of their proprioception. However, I think these shoes could be great for someone trying to prevent and improve moderate losses of proprioception.

Let me know if you have used “barefoot” shoes and your experience with them.


February 25th, 2010 by Christopher Freytag, D.C.

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