Q & A: Why Do Seniors Shuffle When They Walk?

why do seniors shuffle

– Question –

My mom has started shuffling and sliding her feet when she walks. I always remind her to pick up her feet, but she keeps ignoring me! It’s so annoying! Why does she refuse to walk normally?




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– Answer –

Asking your mom to pick up her feet and walk normally isn’t likely to work. Why? Because there’s probably something causing her to shuffle. To help her walk more normally (and safely!), the first step is to find the cause.

 

10 most common reasons seniors shuffle when they walk

  1. Weak hips and leg muscles
  2. Arthritis pain in joints
  3. Loss of flexibility in feet making it hard to flex them normally
  4. Decreased ability to maintain balance
  5. Decreased vision making it hard to see
  6. Fear because of a recent stumble or fall
  7. Slow reaction time when unbalanced which increases fear of falling
  8. Medication side effects
  9. Worn or poorly-fitting shoes or slippers
  10. Slippery floors


Serious medical conditions, like Parkinson’s or dementia, could also cause your mom to shuffle or walk unsteadily. To make sure her shuffling isn’t caused by a health condition or medication, it’s best to get a check-up from the doctor.

 

A shuffling walk increases senior fall risk

If your mom is shuffling, dragging, or generally not lifting her feet off the ground when walking, she’s at greater risk of falling.

Shuffling is a common cause of falls because sliding feet can more easily trip on rugs, door thresholds, or even slightly uneven surfaces. Older adults who shuffle are more likely to stumble because their shoes can catch on the ground. Also, the narrow stance of shuffling feet makes someone more unbalanced than if they had a normal walking stance.

 

What to do if your senior shuffles when they walk

Unless the reason for shuffling is obvious and easily corrected, like replacing a too-old pair of shoes, it’s a good idea to take your older adult to the doctor for a full check-up. That will help identify the cause of the shuffling behavior. Once the reason is known, you and the doctor can come up with a plan to improve the situation.

 

Next Step  3 exercises to improve balance and reduce fall risk

 

You might also like:
VIDEO: 15 Minute Senior Exercise Program for Balance and Strength
Q & A: Why Do Seniors Have Rounded Backs?
VIDEO: Get Up From a Fall MacGyver Style!

 

By DailyCaring Editorial Staff
Image: Adrienne Hedger

16 Comments

  • Reply August 16, 2017

    angela valdez

    My dad 82 has been in perfect health doing activities and work like a 53 year old, yet 4 months ago he went to the hospital not feeling well and was told he had an a slight amonia and his heart beat was irregular so they put him on blood thinner paradaxal, a few weeks after this he started shuffling his feet and his health has changed drastically. He’s gone to the doctor and was told he may have parkinsons yet he has had a cat scan and a MRI in which he was told he did not have parkinsons or dimentia, nothing changed just got worse. After seeing another doctor he was told parkinsons is hard to detect and the on ly way to know is to go on the medication and if you get better then you know you have it, he has been taking parkinsons medication for over three weeks now and has not gotten better, he struggles to walk is weak and is now using a cane, he has stepped down from positions hes done for 30 years plus, moms in tears daily cuz we dont know what happend so guickly and hes at the doctors again today hoping to get an answer. Family just wants to know whats going on with our superman.

    • Reply August 16, 2017

      DailyCaring

      I’m so sorry this is happening! We are not doctors here and don’t provide medical advice, but it seems suspicious that these problems developed so soon after he started the blood thinner and that things are getting worse with the addition of the Parkinson’s medication. Could some of these symptoms be caused by side effects from the new medication? I’m not saying that he shouldn’t be on a blood thinner, but it would be good to speak with the doctor about the possibility that there are negative side effects and maybe trying a different drug. Also, a complete medication review should be done, including any supplements or vitamins your dad has been taken. IMPORTANT: Do not make any changes to his medications before speaking with his doctor — some medications must be tapered down for safety.

      Parkinson’s usually develops slowly over time. Unless your dad has had some evidence of symptoms in the past, it seems odd that sudden symptoms would be diagnosed as Parkinson’s. To diagnose Parkinson’s, here is info from the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation: http://www.pdf.org/diagnosis?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI-aHknIrd1QIVSF9-Ch2w_wZaEAAYAiAAEgKZHfD_BwE

      If a geriatrician (geriatrics doctor) is available in your area, it may be a good idea to try to see one for a second opinion. They have greater training and experience in issues that are common in older adults. More info on them here — http://dailycaring.com/should-older-adult-see-geriatrician/

      Even if you don’t have a geriatrician in the area, you may want to get a referral to a doctor with more experience with older adults and get a second opinion.

      These articles may also be helpful to understanding serious medication side effects:
      — Older bodies are more sensitive to medications, these should be used with caution http://dailycaring.com/medications-seniors-should-avoid-the-beers-list/
      — Medications can cause serious side effects, including Parkinsons’s-like symptoms http://dailycaring.com/medications-may-cause-symptoms-of-parkinsons-disease/
      — The danger of adding medication on top of medication to solve problems that previous medications have caused http://dailycaring.com/stanford-doctor-warns-of-the-negative-effects-of-prescription-drugs/
      — How to check for drug interactions http://dailycaring.com/check-medications-for-dangerous-drug-interactions/

  • Reply August 14, 2017

    barbara

    My Mother did the shuffle. She had an infection (UTI). And she had electrolytes issues/imbalance. when that was fixed, she walked ok. I was told it was Parkinson. She got rigid muscles. She passed this pass Jan. She was 92. Had autopsy. Report said no Parkinson, no Alzheimer’s. So shuffle was caused by the infection. She had imbalances. Was very thin. Her whole life, 92 yrs. Not lazy. Could be from deficiency from Vitamins (Vitamin D), etc. Have all nutrients checked. Go to Dr. that will do this. Keep her moving, circulation. Age 45 is young.

  • Reply April 17, 2017

    Rhona

    Hi I’m a 15 year old girl who lives with her mum and dad
    my mum has ms and my dad has high blood pressure
    howevermy mum shuffles her feet along and doesn’t pick them up causing her to break things in doing so it is only in particular rooms of the house on a non slip wooden floor with no clutter everywhere else in the house she walks normally
    me and my dad have told her millions of times to pick them up but she flat out ignores us

    she has multiple sclerosis and this is not causing it so me and my dad have put it down to laziness as when asked to pick her feet up she groans saying “it’s too hard” when it’s not so this may be another reason.
    my mum is nearly 45 so in the young age so this may be one to add shuffling is also mostly caused by laziness

    • Reply April 17, 2017

      DailyCaring

      I’m sorry to hear about your parents’ health issues. Multiple sclerosis can cause symptoms including muscle stiffness or spasms, vision problems, and unsteady gait. It’s possible that some combination of the texture or appearance of the floors in those particular rooms are making it difficult for your mom to walk without shuffling. Her doctor or physical therapist are the best people to figure out the cause and find a way for her to walk more safely.

  • Reply October 12, 2016

    Allene

    I teach seniors, from 55 on up, and some classes that are strictly for elder seniors. One thing that I’ve had success with, for multiple people, is yoga for seniors. Specifically when I teach, I constantly remind the class to roll the feet when they walk. Act like they are peeling the foot off of the floor, like a piece of tape. I also encourage lifting the foot clear off the floor. This is a class with chairs at hand for balance when first trying this. Having a stabilizer nearby adds confidence. I agree with the article about checking out reason why too, as the seniors I teach see their doctors regularly.

    • Reply October 12, 2016

      Connie Chow

      Thank you for sharing this tip Allene! Yoga is wonderful for both flexibility and strength. It’s great that you provide such a wonderful, health-supporting activity for older adults.

  • Reply September 22, 2016

    Joseph Dabon

    Hi! First time I heard of “shuffling feet.” Isn’t this the same as “dragging or sliding on’es feet?”

    At any rate, I don’t shuffle so I guess the title was too sweeping. I do take careful step because a sudden turn or pivot will twist my knees and they hurt like hell.

    There was a time that I could stand on a dime, now I couldn’t keep my balance with one leg.

    Nice article though.

    • Reply September 22, 2016

      Connie Chow

      So glad you found the article helpful!

  • Reply September 14, 2016

    Phil 53

    My dad’s 93 and he shuffles also he never fell and physical therapy hasn’t help as of yet what else can I do.

    • Reply September 15, 2016

      Connie Chow

      It’s great that your dad hasn’t fallen yet and you’re smart to address the shuffling before it makes it more difficult to keep his balance. In this case, physical therapy is often the best way to figure out what’s causing the shuffling and which exercises will be best. You may want to speak with his doctor to see if he’d be willing to write a physician’s order for physical therapy — that way it can be covered by Medicare.

      We also have a couple of good videos to help older adults build strength and maintain balance. Chair exercises are safe and are still effective at improving balance and strength — http://dailycaring.com/video-easy-effective-10-minute-chair-exercises-for-seniors/

      Here’s a standing exercise routine that uses a sturdy chair or counter for support — http://dailycaring.com/video-15-minute-senior-exercise-program-for-balance-and-strength/

  • Reply May 22, 2016

    frederick k pierce

    i am a senior who shuffles i had a recent fall i noticed that i was shuffling also have diabetic neuropathy i try to lift feet when i notice it.I think I shuffle because it makes me feel more secure.I tend to loose balance off and on .

    • Reply May 22, 2016

      Connie Chow

      Hi Frederick, I’m so sorry to hear that you fell! I hope you had a speedy recovery. It sounds like it might be good to speak with your doctor to see if your diabetic neuropathy symptoms could be reduced. And they may be able to prescribe some physical therapy sessions to help you increase your balance and decrease the tendency to shuffle. Best, Connie

  • Reply December 30, 2015

    Anonymous

    Another common cause is decreased sensation from diabetic neuropathy or other causes. The person can’t feel the floor as well and feels more secure with increased contact and pressure.

    • Reply December 30, 2015

      Connie Chow

      Thank you! That’s a great additional cause of senior shuffling for caregivers to be aware of.

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