Should a Senior’s Shoes Be Tight Or Loose? (An Expert Answers)

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There are pros and cons to each option. Our expert occupational therapist discusses how tight older adults should wear their shoes.

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Senior's Shoes to be Tight or Loose

Every year, our feet take pounding from our natural routines and exposure to the environment.

That’s why it’s more important than ever to invest in shoes that treat you right and fall in sync with your walking and mobility patterns to prevent fatigue, injury, and falls.

This article will discuss the benefits and drawbacks of tight-fitting shoes compared to the benefits and disadvantages of loose-fitting shoes to help determine which fit is best. We will also provide tips for seniors in obtaining the best fit.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Tight Shoes

When you think “tight,” break it down into three planes: tight from instep to outstep, toe to heel, and across the top of the foot.

For the sake of simplicity, we’ll be referring to shoes that cover the toe and heel, which excludes all sandals and flip-flops but includes slide-on or laced sneakers, tennis shoes, loafers, or other similar models.

Benefits:

  • Secure fit to the foot, reducing slip and slide while walking
  • Less likelihood of getting stray pebbles or debris caught in your shoes while walking
  • Less slips while transferring from a sit-to-stand transfer

Drawbacks:

  • Tight shoes may impact healthy circulation through the feet
  • Reduced sensation or risk of feet falling asleep due to tight laces or tight overall fit
  • Doesn’t leave a ton of room for toenail growth, making the wear painful when you’re due for a trim
  • Not comfortable on feet with moderate to severe bunions
senior's shoes to be tight or loose benefits and drawbacks
Loose shoes give more ventilation between the skin and shoe material.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Loose Shoes

This could include shoes with loosened laces/straps or a loose overall fit.

Benefits:

  • Increased circulation benefits seniors with neuropathy, lymphedema, or other disorders of the feet
  • More room for thicker socks, which is helpful for those cold winter months
  • Provides more ventilation between the skin and shoe material, minimizing undesirable foot stench

Drawbacks:

  • Loose shoes create a tripping hazard, increasing your risk of falls
  • Looser shoes tend to slide around during sit-to-stand transfers, giving you less stability.
  • You’ll always have that sensation that your shoes feel like they’re going to fall off at any second.

Which Is Best? 

This is one of those circumstances where the phrase “all things in moderation” is most appropriate.

When it comes to finding the best fit for shoes, seniors should select a brand that provides them with a happy medium.

Additionally, shoes should reflect your wear schedule, activity level, and personality. 

Tips for Getting the Best Fit

Consider the following when selecting your next pair of shoes:

  • Shoes that fit comfortably for many years
  • Shoes that won’t leave you blistered or cut off circulation or sensation in your feet
  • Shoes that can be used multi-purposefully and in all of your tailored environments. Shoes for a marathon will be different compared to efficient shoes for regular trips to the grocery store.
  • Shoes that don’t slide or slip during transfers or mobility tasks
  • Shoes that breathe in combination with your favorite socks
  • Shoes that aren’t complicated to put on or remove
  • Shoes that don’t negatively impact the unique structure of your feet (bunions, missing toes, lymphedema, high arches, diabetic foot ulcers, etc.)
  • Shoes that still reflect your style and personality
senior's shoes to be tight or loose best
Consider having different shoes for various mobility tasks throughout your day.

If you’re struggling with selecting the best shoes on your own, try out the following tips:

  • Talk to friends and family similar in age and lifestyle circumstances about what shoes they would select, the pros and cons of past shoes, etc.
  • Consult with a professional. This could include a person specializing in orthopedic footwear for seniors who consider every aspect of the shoe and the wearer. 
  • Research and try out shoe brands that provide trial periods. Like mattresses, it’s sometimes hard to establish a long-term relationship unless you actually get to know a product first. 
  • If you prefer to have different shoes for different mobility tasks throughout your day, week, month, etc., consult with a professional about selecting multiple shoe models to meet your customized demands. 

Summary and Final Recommendations

Selecting the appropriate shoes during our senior years is essential for optimal foot care, foot stabilization, and fall prevention.

The extent of how tightly shoes should fit is a decision that each individual should uniquely consider according to their life and health circumstances.

However, having a customized fit for your feet provides you with comfort and stability that can potentially last for many years.

Consult with a professional, specifically a person who specializes in orthopedic footwear and who can account for all of the shoe details and how it pertains to your life demands and the medical status of your feet.

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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