Are Minimalist Barefoot Shoes Good For Elderly Adults? (Probably Not!)

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Minimalist shoes aka barefoot shoes are the latest hot footwear trend. But, are they a good idea for older adults?

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Minimalist Barefoot Shoes Good For Elderly

A few years back, there was a hot trend going for athletes and runners to use minimalist or “barefoot” shoes to enhance their performance.

Believe it or not, research continues today regarding seniors or elderly adults wearing minimalist shoes to improve mobility, posture and reduce the risk of falls.

So, can elderly adults actually benefit from minimalist shoes, or should this footwear be reserved for the younger crowd?

This article will discuss the pros of wearing barefoot shoes, the cons and dangers, and the positive features to look for in minimalist shoes. 

Pros of Barefoot Shoes

If you think about it, our bodies are load-bearing structures designed to carry our natural weight through our bare feet.

That’s why some experts argue that over-cushioning or feet may be more dangerous than walking around barefoot or with minimal shoe material.

Extra cushion keeps us out of touch with the floor or other surfaces, decreasing our body’s access to muscle strengthening and increasing our fall risk.

With that in mind, here are a few pros for seniors or elderly folks wearing minimalist shoes:

  • Enhances postural stability, balance, and strength
  • Keeps the feet closer to the ground, improving sensory communication between the environment and the body
  • Increases lower extremity (legs) strength
  • Improves balance during walking
minimalist barefoot shoes good for elderly cons
Barefoot shoes may compromise the overall structure of the feet.

Cons/Dangers of Barefoot Shoes

Unfortunately, after many years of wearing orthotics or cushioned shoes, switching to barefoot shoes is a dramatic change for seniors or elderly folks.

The joints of the feet and legs may not be ready for such an immediate switch. Here are a few cons or possible dangers for elderly folks wearing minimalist shoes:

  • Sore tendons, joints, and muscles of the feet and legs
  • Compromising the overall structure of the feet
  • Adjustments to barefoot shoes after many years of cushioned shoes can increase your risk for falls just because you’re not used to the new shoe.
  • Seniors with already compromised feet (osteoporosis, neuropathy, foot ulcers, etc.) may do more harm than good using barefoot shoes.

Should Seniors/Elderly People Wear Minimalist or Barefoot Shoes?

Here’s the golden and most obvious answer: it depends. Research provides support and precautions regarding minimalist shoes for seniors or elderly folks.

However, minimalist shoes may only have their place for a certain group of older adults, including those who:

  • Are active
  • Who have relatively healthy feet (structurally and medically)
  • Who may have some postural or balance concerns but not severe mobility problems

Seniors or elderly men and women who want to make the switch from maximal (cushioned) shoes to minimalist or barefoot shoes should probably do so gradually so that their feet can get used to the new footwear without causing excessive soreness or discomfort.

Features to Look for in Minimalist or Barefoot Shoes

When it comes to minimalist shoes for seniors or elderly adults, there is an underlying assumption that the potential users are relatively active (or the goal is to promote more physical activity).

If that’s the case, you are looking for a shoe that needs to be comfortable for wearing purposes throughout your chosen physical activities and for specific activity durations.

With that in mind, consider the following features when selecting your minimalist shoes:

  • Custom-fit to the unique structure of your foot (supinator, pronator, neutral foot, etc.)
  • Breathable fabric that minimizes sweat and odor
  • Material that won’t leave your feet blistered and rashy after activity
  • Shoes with enough traction to prevent slippage
  • Heel support that provides you with postural stability but doesn’t increase spinal pain

No “one size fits all” minimalist shoe exists for older adults. Consult with a professional shoe fitter and an orthopedic specialist for more options. 

minimalist barefoot shoes good for elderly summary
Consult with your primary physician if minimalist or barefoot shoes are right for you. 

Summary and Final Recommendations

According to the latest research, minimalist or barefoot shoes may have their place among the elderly population.

Shoes with little cushion that keep the feet closer to the ground may increase lower extremity strength, improve postural stability, and enhance overall balance during walking and standing tasks.

Barefoot shoes custom-fit to an individual’s feet may complement their already physical lifestyle and improve their overall quality of life.

However, minimalist shoes are not for everyone. Individuals with osteoporosis or compromised structure or tissue of the feet may not be able to safely wear or benefit from barefoot shoes.

Consult with your primary physician or an orthopedic specialist to discuss your unique mobility situation and if minimalist or barefoot shoes are right for you. 

References:

Meredith Chandler, OTR/L

Registered/Licensed Occupational Therapist

Meredith has worked as an occupational therapist for 9 years and as a content writer for 6 years. She primarily works with the geriatric population, focusing on their rehabilitative needs and instructing caregivers and family members for home care. Her specialties include ADL training, neurological re-education, functional mobility training, adaptive equipment education, and wheelchair assessment and mobility training. She is a painter, a musician, and a mother of 4 who loves spending time with her family,

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