By Teresa Swartz Roberts
Blog 44. Copyright 2021
My mother was an active woman. She was downright athletic, shining as both a cheerleader and a majorette during her school years. By the time she was a grandmother, she still swam on a regular basis and could “cut a rug,” her favorite term for dancing. As her mind wandered into the valley of Alzheimer’s Disease, her body also wandered. She was ambulatory for much longer than she knew where she was going.
When it became my job to buy her clothes, I was able to realize that she still needed good, well-fitting, supportive shoes, even though she couldn’t tell me. You know how it feels the day you wear that pair of shoes that pinches just a little, how eager you are for the end of the day so that you can slip off those shoes. Imagine not being able to express that your feet hurt.
I wore the wrong shoes to a play rehearsal one day when I was about to turn 40 and lived to regret it. I had expected a singing rehearsal, but we were learning the choreography for a dance scene. I found out the hard way that I had bone spurs and arthritis. I should have known because I had always danced. It was dancing in sandals during rehearsal that inflamed my feet with plantar fasciitis to the point that I could barely persuade myself to get out of bed in the morning.
Until recently, I’ve always been a big girl and a big woman. I need a firm foundation to stand on. Even now if I go barefoot for long, my knee flares up and my heels hurt. Shoes matter.
If you have a loved one who can no longer go shoe shopping, you can still make their feet as comfortable as possible.
For fit, start with the shoes that are at the foot of the bed or by the back door. Those are the ones your loved one actually wore by choice, not by what society dictated. The shoes in the closet may be prettier, but comfort will quickly become more important than style if style comes at the price of pain.
You can also have the patient stand and put weight on a foot and draw an outline around the foot. The trick with this method is to pay attention to the thickness of the foot. Shoes that are adjustable with shoestrings or Velcro are much more forgiving than shoes that need to be shoehorned on.
You have to be careful, though, about how forgiving the shoes are. If they are easy to put on and take off but allow the feet to slide around within the shoe, they can lead to hyper-extended knees. That happened to me when I tried elastic shoelaces after eye surgery, when I was not allowed to bend over to tie my shoes. My usual relaxing Tai Chi turned into torture when my foot slipped, forcing my knee to slide out of place. Parkinson’s forces me to take tiny shuffle-steps when my meds aren’t working to full capacity, so I need to keep myself as sure-footed as possible.
I must acknowledge that Velcro closures generally do not provide the same level of support as laces do. I still sometimes wear shoes that tie if I am going to be taking more steps than usual, but I have to be creative to get them to remain tied and not create the classic step-on-a-shoelace fall that left me pretty battered one Sunday afternoon.
For support, read product descriptions and reviews. I prefer New Balance shoes. I developed brand loyalty to them during my 18 years in Maine, where I purchased all of my walking shoes at the outlet next door to the factory in Skowhegan. The point is, I know from experience that the shoes I like have an anti-roll bar in the sole. If I need shoes I can wear to a business meeting, I can look for that support in a black shoe. (New Balance has them. They’re not appropriate with dresses but look pretty good with trousers.)
For people who enjoy shoe shopping and who care about style, realize that once you’ve stopped being able to walk, you can wear whatever shoes you want to wear. If you are dressed up, you can bring along stilletto-heeled shoes to change into after you have transferred into your wheelchair when you go to your high school reunion. If you can afford them or borrow them, there’s no reason not to rock the red-soled shoes.
Once you know you have a winner, buy as many pairs as you can afford. I am on an email list that alerts me when my local store has its signature sales. Every time, I buy up to four pairs of 813s. I may never have to shop for shoes again. I am comfortable with that. I have not enjoyed shoe shopping since I was little and Mother had to take me to Charleston to order my extra-wide saddle oxfords.
When you have the shoes in hand, take a Sharpie and label them. People in facilities tend to go shopping in other residents’ rooms, and shoes sometimes have to be cleaned after a spill or accident.
One more note about Velcro closures. When you are dressing someone, smooth the socks and the tongue of each shoe before securing the Velcro tabs. Pull the strap up before pulling it across the foot. That will prolong the life of the elastic and stitching and guard against having the shoes too tight.
The sense of touch, comfort versus pain, is the last thing to go in a person’s life. Comfort matters. Shoes matter.