Background: Public health responses to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) including lockdowns may negatively impact physical and mental functioning in clinical populations. People living with multiple sclerosis (MS) may be more susceptible to physical function deterioration while practicing social distancing. Recent reports have suggested that about 50% of people with MS (pwMS) decreased their leisure physical activity during COVID-19, and upwards of 30% reported decreased physical fitness levels. However, the impact of social distancing on adverse health-related outcomes such as falls has not received much scrutiny.
Objectives: We explored the frequency and characteristics of falls experienced by people living with and without MS during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Methods: Two-hundred and thirty-nine individuals, including 106 pwMS (median age: 59 years) and 133 people living without MS (median age: 66 years) were recruited for this cross-sectional study. A snowball sampling strategy was used for online recruitment. Participants completed a customized falls questionnaire and the number of falls experienced (if any) during COVID-19 was recorded. Fall-related characteristics such as the timing, locations, activities undertaken before falling and consequences, as well as self-reported physical activity were also recorded.
Results: Overall, participants reported 232 falls (1.67 falls/person in pwMS and 0.41 falls/person in non-MS participants). People living with MS (pwMS) had a significantly higher frequency of falls (58.5% vs 21.8%; p< 0.001) and recurrent falls (45.3% vs 9.8%; p< 0.001) compared to non-MS participants. Additionally, pwMS reported a significantly higher proportion of in-home falls (83.9% vs 54.2%; p= 0.004), as well as a higher proportion of overall injuries (44.3% vs 12.5%, p< 0.001), fractures (5.7% vs 0.8%, p= 0.048), and healthcare utilization (9.4% vs 1.6%, p= 0.007) compared to non-MS participants. A similar proportion of pwMS (49.1%) and non-MS participants (52.2%) reported lower physical activity levels during COVID-19. Conclusions: This cross-sectional study revealed that pwMS remain at high risk of falls and fall-related outcomes during COVID-19. The high number of falls experienced by pwMS is of clinical concern considering the current strain on the healthcare system. Findings from this study highlight the importance of monitoring falls and the potential for telerehabilitation in persons with MS during COVID-19.