10 Reasons Why Seniors Walk With a Shuffling Gait

10 top reasons why seniors may walk with a shuffling gait

Don’t ignore a shuffling walk in seniors

You might notice that your older adult shuffles or drags their feet when they walk. 

And even if you constantly remind them, they’re still not picking up their feet when walking. In fact, they may not even notice that they’re doing it.

So why do seniors shuffle when they walk? The short answer is that they’re not doing it on purpose.

When someone starts shuffling when they walk, something is causing that to happen. To help your older adult walk more safely, the first step is to find the cause.

We share the 10 top reasons why seniors shuffle when they walk, explain why shuffling significantly increases fall risk, and suggest what to do if your older adult has a shuffling walk.




10 top reasons why 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


A shuffling walk increases senior fall risk

It might seem like not picking up feet when walking isn’t that important.

But if someone is shuffling, dragging, or generally not lifting their feet off the ground when walking, they’re at a much 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. 

And seniors who shuffle when they walk are more likely to stumble because their shoes can catch on the ground. 

Plus, the narrow stance of shuffling feet makes someone more unbalanced than if they had a regular walking stance.


What to do about an older adult’s shuffling walk

An unsteady gait or shuffling walk could be caused by something as simple as slippery floors or as serious as dementia or Parkinson’s disease.

So if your older adult has started shuffling their feet when walking, it’s important to schedule an appointment with their doctor to find out what’s causing it.

To prepare for the doctor’s appointment, check to see if any of these top 10 reasons could be causing them to shuffle their feet.

Unless the reason is obvious and easily corrected, like replacing a too-old pair of shoes that are loose, it’s best to have the doctor do a thorough check-up.

That will help them identify the cause of the shuffling behavior. Once the reason is known, the doctor can make recommendations for how to improve the situation.


Next Step  Try gentle exercises that increase flexibility and improve balance


Recommended for you:


By DailyCaring Editorial Team
Image: Accuro Home and Community Care


  • Reply July 15, 2021

    Bobbie Sena

    I am 87, healthy and strong mentally and physically, med free, pain free, and able to walk briskly with no shuffling.I have had friends my age and younger who shuffle somewhat because of just being super careful not to trip or fall.Bad vision and a loss of strength were the reasons. Their shuffling was a logical result of those problems.i cannot se any reason why theircareful and slow gait could harm them. It seems that actually it would help them to avoid injury.To be sure, the shuffling might be a sign of a disease in some people. However, I do not see why shuffling could be in itself harmful.

    • Reply July 15, 2021


      It’s great that you’re in such good health. In the article above, we address why walking with a shuffling gait increases fall risk and the main causes, some of which are signs of a health condition that requires treatment.

  • Reply September 12, 2020


    Hydrocephalus or “Water on the Brain” could be an issue. Feet shuffling is a symptoms.

  • Reply August 26, 2020

    Albert godfrey

    The above infomation has been very helpfull i saw 2 specilists in the old mans Clinic at the Q M C 2 years ago they ruled out Parkinson dementure i also had a Head scan do you think a couse of ACUPUNCTRE WILLhelp

    • Reply August 26, 2020


      If you’re having symptoms of a serious health condition, it’s important to speak with a licensed medical professional to find out what could be causing the issues. They would be the best people to ask if certain therapies would be helpful or not.

  • Reply August 30, 2019

    Brenda Anderson

    I agree with that.

  • Reply May 2, 2019

    Dovebyrd Volare

    I am 101 and can still walk without the aid of a cane or walker.Slowly and for short distances around the house,etc.I do not need a wheelchair and when I go out,my son helps me and holds my arm. I can climb up stairs,too….but not too many.Hey,at 101 I am not complaining !

  • Reply January 19, 2019

    Richard Harry Ginsburg

    I am a 59 yr old male.I have Parkinson disease. When I walk I shuffle my feet and have a tenacity to fall. What type of exercises can I do to straighten my leg muscles. I will be starting school in a few weeks and do not want to fall while going from class to class

  • Reply October 6, 2018


    It’s late 2018 but I just wanted to comment that you can suggest the senior person in your life wear wrist supports (the one that contain a rigid insert) and elbow pads and/or knee pads, when about and/or moving around, it helps if the person falls, but is not a save-all or guarantee. The older a person gets the more awareness they need to be more careful, to slow down and not-as-fast when moving around.

    • Reply October 7, 2018


      That’s an interesting idea that some people may want to consider. Thank you for sharing!

  • Reply November 2, 2017

    carlotta gladding

    My 99 year old mom shuffles and I’ve had a hard time finding slippers that aren’t too grabby on her wooden floors. I’m afraid if the shoes are too grabby she will get stopped in her tracks. Any suggestions?

  • Reply September 14, 2017

    Art Rod

    Thank you Daily Caring for providing feed back. Enjoy reading your articles!

    • Reply September 19, 2017


      Thank you Art! So glad our articles are helpful 🙂

  • 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


      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 December 28, 2017


      get him off of those meds and he will probably return to normal

      • Reply January 5, 2018


        That’s definitely a possibility to discuss with the doctor.

  • Reply August 14, 2017


    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


    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


      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


    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


    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.

Leave a Reply