Masks might be keeping people safe from COVID-19 but they could potentially create another health concern of their own - increasing the risk of falls particularly among the elderly.
Physiotherapists are concerned that masks could increase the risk of falls and injuries in older people by reducing their peripheral vision.
And among elderly people wearing a mask which causes their glasses to fog up, the danger could be even higher as reduced vision is closely linked with a loss of balance.
National Ageing Research Institute (NARI) Clinical Gerontology director Frances Batchelor said lower peripheral vision, or what you can see without having to move your head to look down, is restricted when you wear a mask.
"Normally when you look ahead while walking you have an awareness of the tips of yours toes, without having to tilt your head down. That awareness is cut to waist height when you wear a mask, so you can't see where you place your feet," Associate Professor Batchelor said.
"This is a real concern for older people navigating uneven footpaths, gutters and steps. If they trip and fall it could mean more than a bruise or sprain. It could mean a broken hip and hospitalisation," she said.
Lake Allied Health Group physiotherapy director Michael Pierce said glasses fogging up through mask wearing could reduce a person's balance, as could an ill-fitting mask that rode up in to their vision.
"If the mask cuts down their vision, or fogs their glasses, it would throw the rest of their balance out ... putting them at greater risk," he said.
And masks causing other physical distractions such as headache or pulling on the ears could become distracting, further endangering people as they move about.
"If someone is distracted with something else it's one extra thing to take away from their sense of what they were doing," he said.
Associate Professor Batchelor said a simple strategy like remembering to look down when wearing a mask could prevent unnecessary pain. "Remember to mask up, look down."
University of Melbourne Professor of Physiotherapy Cathy Said said during the COVID19 pandemic there was a risk that older people's physical strength and abilities might have declined because of diminished physical activity.
"Older people may not be going out and about as usual so may miss out on incidental exercise," said Associate Professor Said.
"They risk losing functional abilities such as balance, which can increase their risk of falls."
"It's vital older people try to replicate the level of physical activity they had prior to COVID19 restrictions."
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