Doing the Shuffle?

Back in the disco era of the 1970s, doing the shuffle was all the rage.  It was the dance of that decade.  This morning, watching my dad do the “shuffle” from his bedroom to the kitchen wasn’t quite as “cool”.  In fact, it was rather scary!  All I could think of is, “He’s going to fall if he doesn’t pickup his feet.”

Have you ever wondered why people start to do the shuffle as they get older?  Well, there’s several good reasons why it happens, and here’s a few of them:

  • Arthritis – making it harder and more painful to move those joints
  • Weakened leg and hip muscles – (or in dad’s case, tight leg muscles robbing him of flexibility)
  • Fear of falling — the very thing that will happen if they keep on shuffling!
  • Decrease in balance – when you feel like you will loose your balance…you tend to shuffle
  • Slippery floors – sometimes people shuffle on a slippery floor to avoid a fall

And, there’s some medical reasons why people might start to shuffle, such as Parkinson’s, dementia or it can be caused by side effects of medications.

“Pick Up Your Feet!”

Who among us has yelled or calmly said, “Pick up your feet!”, when painfully watching an aging parent, spouse or friend walk with a shuffle?    How did that work out?  It usually does not.  And, that’s because they don’t enjoy doing the shuffle … they can’t help it.  They don’t know how to fix it.  And, you both end up frustrated.

Get Your “Groove On”

So, how can we help them get their “groove on” and walk without shuffling quite so much?  There’s a couple of things:

  • Stand on one leg — it’s an exercise to help with balance.  Make sure they are next to something .they can hold onto in case they cannot stay balanced.  But, building the ability to stand and stay balanced on one leg helps strengthen the leg and hip muscles and reduces the need to shuffle.
  • Walk “heel to toe” — this is good to help remind people to start their walk by first hitting the floor with their heel then their toes.  It’s a reminder system that is meant to eventually become a habit.  It also helps to improve balance.
  • Take them to the doctor — often times, getting to the root of the problem requires a medical evaluation.  And, the doctor can then also order things like physical therapy or injections for pain and inflammation to address the underlying causes of their shuffling

Disco Has It’s Place….

Dance is wonderful for the heart and soul.  Many older adults love to dance.  And, it’s good for them.  But, let’s keep “Doing the Shuffle” confined to the dance floor!  After all, “hitting the floor” (a.k.a. falling)  is NOT what any of us want to see happen to our aging loved ones.  Get them to practice the standing on one leg balance and be ready to encourage them to keep it up!  I’m sure you can come up with a fun name for that move…maybe “The Flamingo”?

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