It may not seem like a big deal if a senior is shuffling or dragging their feet, but in reality they are at greater risk of falling. Shuffling is a common cause of falling due to the feet sliding more easily and tripping on rugs, door thresholds, or slightly uneven surfaces.
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.
Why it happens Initially, a shuffle may be caused by a fear of falling due to changes in depth perception or orientation; the person takes more tentative steps. A shuffling walk can also be an early sign of a loss of muscular coordination as the part of the brain governing motor skills (the parietal lobe) is affected.
Parkinsonian gait is a defining feature of Parkinson’s disease, especially in later stages. It’s often considered to have a more negative impact on quality of life than other Parkinson’s symptoms. People with Parkinsonian gait usually take small, shuffling steps. They might have difficulty picking up their feet.
Fear of falling It is not unusual for elders with multiple falls to start dragging their feet or shuffling. This ‘cautionary behavior’ is caused by a ‘fear of falling’ and a lack of confidence in the person’s ability to maintain balance; the shuffling walk is intended to prevent falling.
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Muscular Weakness Strong back, leg, and ankle muscles and tendons are necessary for maintaining good posture and lifting the legs when walking. Over time, your loved one may have lost muscle mass that makes it difficult to lift his or her feet.
Dementia can affect areas of the brain that are responsible for movement and balance. Many individuals affected by Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia gradually lose the ability to walk and perform everyday tasks.
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The condition known as parkinsonism (also known as Parkinson’s disease) is a disorder of the extrapyramidal system, caused by degeneration of the basal ganglia of the brain. Amongst its other clinical features, it includes a shuffling gait.
Gait disorders are more prevalent in dementia than in normal aging and are related to the severity of cognitive decline. Dementia-related gait changes (DRGC) mainly include decrease in walking speed provoked by a decrease in stride length and an increase in support phase.
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They may gradually lose their ability to walk, stand or get themselves up from the chair or bed. They may also be more likely to fall. These problems can be caused by dementia, medication, other medical conditions (for example stroke), sight loss, balance problems and the environment.