How to avoid falls when wearing a face mask?

How to avoid falls when wearing a face mask?
October 30 11:35 2020 by admin Print This Article

The Covid-19 outbreak has been a global pandemic like none before. In the absence of a vaccine, prophylactic measures are the best way to protect oneself from infection. Such measures include frequent washing of hands, social distancing and wearing a mask.

In-spite of the safety concerns, people around the world are letting go of the mask. Their excuses include:

  1. Discomfort while talking
  2. Fogging up of glasses
  3. Reduced lower peripheral vision

The last reason is significant. When one is wearing a mask and looking down, some part of the vision is obstructed by the mask. Visual inputs coming from the lower peripheral vision helps us to walk safely by examining trip hazards and avoiding them in time. When such vision is restricted, the risk of tripping and falling increases. This is because the person tends to move the head forward in order to look over and above the mask. This can make it risky for people who are older or have balance problems.

So what are the measures being adopted to make up for this reduced lower peripheral vision? One of the measures suggested or followed by people is to look down frequently at the foot or feet. The frequent looking down and then looking up helps one avoid tripping hazards and walk safely.

However, this is an unsafe and wrong approach. As doctors have argued, there are two reasons for this:

1.   It’s important to look ahead and plan one’s steps in order to avoid trip hazards. While looking down occasionally is ok for younger adults, for older adults this is a risk. Older adults have slightly reduced reflexes. Frequently looking down and then up can confuse the brain and affect the walking plan. This can actually cause more falls. In fact, for the same reason, bifocal glasses that reduce lower peripheral vision makes older adults look down and up frequently. This increases their risk of falling while climbing stairs or avoiding obstacles.

2. Maintaining physical balance comes from the combination of visual information,derived from looking ahead, and other sensory inputs such as touch and hearing of one’s footsteps. This is what ensures balance for people of any age. Older adults, due to slow reflexes, rely more on straight-ahead vision than lower peripheral vision. This is even truer if the person is suffering from Parkinson’s disease or diabetic sensory neuropathy. Asking such people to look down and up frequently negates this strategy of straight-ahead vision for balance. In the process, such adults lose their balance and tend to fall or trip more often.

So what is the solution? How do older adults wear a mask and not fall or trip often?

The solution is simple. Doctors recommend that older adults wearing a mask should take their time while walking. While looking down once in a while is inevitable, this can be risky if the person is walking at his/her usual pace. A better option is to slow down. The slower pace makes it easy for the person to look ahead and plan the walk. At the same time, looking down occasionally will not hurt as there is ample time for the person to steady himself/herself.

If you are a family member or caregiver to older adults, please do not rush them while they are walking or climbing stairs. Let them take their time. Their brains need time to process inputs from straight-ahead vision, lower peripheral vision and other sense organs. Another option as recommended by doctors is the use of transparent masks. These are made of plastic fibre and can be easily washed.

The bottom line is that older adults are more at risk from Covid-19 and should mandatorily wear a mask while stepping out of home. This puts them at the risk of tripping and falling. Such people can overcome this additional risk by taking slow and measured steps.


Kauvery Hospital is globally known for its multidisciplinary services at all its Centers of Excellence, and for its comprehensive, Avant-Grade technology, especially in diagnostics and remedial care in heart diseases, transplantation, vascular and neurosciences medicine. Located in the heart of Trichy (Tennur, Royal Road and Alexandria Road (Cantonment), Chennai, Hosur and Salem, the hospital also renders adult and pediatric trauma care.

Chennai – 044 4000 6000 • Trichy – Cantonment – 0431 4077777 • Trichy – Heartcity – 0431 4003500 • Trichy – Tennur – 0431 4022555 • Hosur – 04344 272727 • Salem – 0427 2677777 • Bengaluru – 080 6801 6801

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2 Comments

  1. Venkat Natarajan
    November 03, 10:03 #1 Venkat Natarajan

    Good one… esp when we’re all getting used to the “new” normal.

    Reply to this comment
  2. Yasmin Dass
    November 08, 20:38 #2 Yasmin Dass

    A very relevant blog, considering the current situation. The info is extremely helpful! Thanks for the pointers!

    Reply to this comment

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