In the fall prevention world, seniors and elderly folks are probably used to receiving positive vibes about shoes with good “traction” or “non-slip” material.
However, we want to dive a little deeper and investigate how true these claims are.
Are non-slip and high-traction shoes really the best option for shoes when it comes to fall prevention in seniors and elderly individuals, or are their counterpart smooth-soled materials better?
This article will discuss the important pros and cons of smooth soles, the types of soles that are best for older adults, and if older adults should actually wear smooth-soled shoes.
Pros of Smooth Soles
The sole refers to the bottom of the shoe, which comes into contact with the ground during mobility tasks.
Smooth soles have limited texture, meaning the material is less likely to stick to certain floors during walking patterns. Here are a few pluses to wearing smooth-soled shoes as an older adult:
- Limited traction means less tripping or catching while walking, especially for older adults who struggle with leg weakness and picking up their feet.
- Some smooth-soled shoes weigh less than shoes with full traction, which is helpful for seniors with lower leg weakness.
- Smooth-soled shoes track in less dirt and rocks.
Cons of Smooth Soles
Now let’s look closer at some potential problems smooth-soled shoes can impose on seniors, depending on their mobility situation:
- Since there’s decreased traction, this creates the perfect “slip n’ slide” scenario. Seniors may find themselves skating across hardwood floors rather than walking safely.
- It’s more difficult (and dangerous) to transfer from a sitting to a standing position on hardwood or slick floors using smooth-soled shoes.
- Smooth-soled shoes are not compatible with outdoor surfaces, especially if it’s rainy or icy.
- Smooth-soled shoes are terrifying to use in bathrooms or other areas of the house where water spillage on the floor is common.
What Types of Soles Are Best for Older Adults?
When it comes to deciding on heavy traction versus smooth-soled shoes, older adults should actually consider three interacting factors:
- The type of sole
- Their unique mobility pattern
- All the walking surfaces they frequent in their home and in the community
Consider the following scenario:
Robert is a 69-year-old man living with his wife in a privately owned home. Robert was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease two years ago, but he’s been relatively mobile with the right medication regimen. He’s been shopping around for the right shoes that he could use for home and community use. He struggles to lift his feet to clear his toes for a full step, so heavy shoes are out of the question.
His home primarily has hardwood floors with carpet in his bedroom. He lives in the Midwest, so the sidewalks get covered with all sorts of precipitation all year round. He’s experienced loss of balance, but no ground-level falls yet. He uses a single-point cane for community use.
Like Robert, each senior’s case for new shoes should be considered unique. Robert may struggle with using heavy traction shoes in his house, especially if he uses rubber high-traction shoes that catch on the hardwood floors or carpet.
However, high-traction shoes are great for outdoor use and unpredictable weather. He may benefit from a sole with happy-medium traction, wide surface area, and wide heel.
He may also benefit from getting two types of shoes, one pair for home use and one pair for community use.
Should Elderly People Wear Smooth-Soled Shoes?
Smooth-soled shoes may have their place among the elderly if they meet specific criteria:
- They plan on walking or transferring on surfaces that already provide traction (highly textured floors or carpets)
- They plan on walking for extremely short distances
- They struggle with clearing their toes when picking up their feet to walk, usually due to leg weakness.
If older adults can clear their toes for walking and are transferring/walking on slick or outdoor surfaces, then their shoes should include a sole that has:
- A decent amount of traction, but not too much to catch their toes and cause a fall
- A wide sole and wide heel create plenty of surface area and contact with the floor
- A flat sole with a flat heel allows that surface area to remain close to the ground, creating a larger base of support and preventing loss of balance
Summary and Final Recommendations
Smooth-soled shoes may have their place among the elderly if their mobility conditions meet specific criteria. However, misuse of smooth-soled shoes in the home and community can lead to slips and falls.
The best soles on shoes for the elderly should include flat, wide measurements with plenty of surface area that makes complete contact with the floor and a happy-medium level of traction for slippery floors.
- Cox, Roush., D. (2022). How the right shoes can protect you from falling. National Council on Aging. https://www.ncoa.org/age-well-planner/resource/how-the-right-shoes-can-protect-you-from-falling
- Eidelson, S.G., MD. (2022). Fall Prevention. Spineuniverse. https://www.spineuniverse.com/conditions/osteoporosis/fall-prevention