An abundance of caution may throw people with poor eyesight off balance when stepping over obstacles, a recent study finds.

The researchers showed that people with impaired vision were more anxious while walking than their peers in a control group. Participants also lifted their leading foot 43% higher and 10% slower over an obstacle. This was true even when they were in a hurry, walking 20% faster than control group participants. 

While this behavior suggests increased caution, the altered gait was observed to affect their stability, said Shahina Pardhan, Ph.D., from Anglia Ruskin University, UK.

“While the lifting of the lead foot higher over the obstacle gives more clearance, it also means they are less stable when negotiating it, which could cause them to lose their balance,” Pardhan said.

Participants with vision loss also looked down more often and for a longer duration when approaching an obstacle, she added. “Walking with vision loss requires significantly more mental effort,” Pardham said.

Half of all vision impairment is preventable, and it is vital that people identify and correct vision problems early, Parham counsels. “[I]t would certainly lead to fewer falls,” she concluded.

Full findings are available in the journal Scientific Reports.