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The Villages
Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Dementia and proper footwear

Carol Wolf
Carol Wolf

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 6 million Americans suffer from dementia. By 2050, this number is projected to more than double to 13 million!

The vast majority of individuals with dementia have the most common type, which is Alzheimer’s. Currently, 10 percent of the 6 million Americans that have Alzheimer’s live in Florida! It is estimated that Sumter County alone (where I live) has over 10,000 individuals that have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. and is the most common form of dementia in 70-80 percent of all diagnosed cases.

Proper footwear for individuals with dementia is critical. Why? As we all age, our feet flatten and become wider and the fatty padding wears down, leaving bones and joints more exposed to wear and tear. Injuries can occur from a simple blister to bunions and calluses, and conditions such as neuropathy, arthritis, ingrown toenails, and skin breaks can compromise other health conditions. In addition, nearly 80 percent of all individuals have a noticeable discrepancy between their left foot and their right foot. Falls in the elderly are among the most frequent causes of incapacity and death. Then combine all of that information with the fact that individuals with dementia have double to threefold the risk for falls!

There are many factors that contribute to that increased risk, including the fact that individuals with dementia are more likely to experience problems with mobility, balance, and muscle weakness. In addition, it is common for individuals with dementia to have difficulties processing what they see and how they react when walking. Individuals with dementia have a tendency to gravitate toward “comfortable” shoes that may not have the proper fitting or support such as slippers, or ill-fitted shoes. These type of shoes encourages “shuffling” instead of walking properly. All of this means one thing, the increased risk of a fall!

When considering buying the proper shoes keep in mind a few things. If there are specific health challenges or foot issues, consider talking to a podiatrist about the best footwear. According to Matthew Garoufalis, DPM, a podiatrist and past president of the American Podiatric Medical Association, “Proper footwear can help improve balance, especially in older people who may struggle with mobility and balance issues.”

His advice in selecting shoes is a 1-2-3 test:

Step 1: Press on both sides of the heel area to ensure the heel is stiff and won’t collapse.

Step 2: Bend the shoe to check for toe flexibility. The shoe shouldn’t bend too much in the toe box area, but it shouldn’t be too stiff and inflexible either.

Step 3: Try twisting the shoe; it shouldn’t twist in the middle.

Many experts will agree that the best shoes for individuals with dementia are walking shoes. This is due to the athletic-oriented design and the fact that they are comfortable with supportive material. However, if there are additional healthcare issues (such as diabetes), consulting with a podiatrist is the best option as specialized orthopedic shoes may be recommended.

Hook-and-loop or velcro-style fastening will likely be easiest for dementia patients who are able to take their shoes on and off independently. Dementia can decrease fine motor skills, and using velcro-style or hook-and-loop straps generally requires less dexterity than using laces or zippers.

Having comfortable, well-fitting, strong-support, slip-resistant shoes which are precisely measured and fitted is the best option for individuals with dementia in reducing the risk of injuries and falls. Purchasing shoes from a store that specializes in meeting these aspects is important. In the past, it was a challenge for individuals within The Villages community to find specialty walking shoe stores without having to travel outside the area. However, there are a few new shoe stores to consider within The Villages.

The Villages will soon be home to a Sketchers store. The shoe retailer is preparing to move into Rolling Acres Plaza at the former home of Pier 1 Imports, (which closed its doors at Rolling Acres Plaza in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic). The Sketchers store is planning to open in early June.

In addition, Fleet Feet recently opened a location in The Villages at Colony Plaza. This “specialty” shoe store offers foot scanning technology that takes precise measurements of foot length, width, and arch height and assesses an individual’s foot motion and stride as they walk. This technology is also able to analyze gait patterns and pressure points on feet when walking. This type of technology results in obtaining shoes that have the best possible fit.

Expect to pay more for these types of shoes when purchasing but they are worth every penny of the investment! Whatever option is selected, remember that the goal needs to be to obtain shoes for someone with dementia that are well-fitted, comfortable, slip-resistant, and provide proper support!

Carol Ann Wolf is a Village of Hemingway resident. She is a retired healthcare executive that volunteers in a variety of different areas within The Villages relating to dementia, including community education. She is on the Board of Directors for the non-profit Our Moment Cafe, Inc. which provides social engagement (i.e. memory cafes), education, and support for caregivers and their loved ones with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

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