More than a quarter of all Americans ages 65 and older fall each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). For older people with bleeding disorders, spills increase the risk of fractures, bleeds and other injuries. Damage to the hips, in particular, can lead to a loss of mobility, negatively affecting both overall quality of life and possibly one’s ability to live independently.
Many factors common among people with bleeding disorders contribute to an increased risk of falling, including arthritis and weakness in the knees, ankles and other lower extremities, as well as joint pain, reduced hip mobility and decreased bone density.
But you can minimize the risk of falls as the years go by, says Lorraine Flaherty, PT, a physical therapist at the Comprehensive Pain Center at the Everett Clinic in Everett, Washington, and a former physical therapist at the Washington Center for Bleeding Disorders at Bloodworks Northwest in Seattle.
Flaherty, who researches falls among people in the bleeding disorders community, recommends implementing these fall prevention measures:
1. Get Moving
“When we’re sedentary, not only will our muscles get weaker and tighter, but we won’t have opportunities to practice the balance skills that can prevent falls,” says Flaherty. Watching TV? Get up regularly and move around. Do simple balance exercises as well, such as standing on one leg while supporting yourself on the back of a sofa or at a counter. Your physical therapist should determine the best exercises for you.
2. Make Simple Home Improvements
Most falls happen at home, often while people are doing everyday activities. To reduce the risk of a fall inside of your house:
• Keep stairwells brightly lit and install handrails on both sides.
• Use double-sided tape or nonslip backing to keep rugs secure.
• In the kitchen, store frequently used items within easy reach.
• Arrange furniture, electrical cords and other items so there’s a clear path through each room.
• Add grab bars and nonslip mats or strips to your shower or bathtub.
For more helpful ideas, see “Preventing Falls”<https://stepsforliving.hemophilia.org/step-out/wellness-and-prevention/preventing-falls> on NHF’s Steps for Living website. Also, your PT may be willing to make a house call to evaluate your home and suggest specific changes.
3. Steady Yourself
“Targeted exercise has been shown to be very effective at preventing falls,” says Flaherty. Ask your PT to evaluate your mobility and other physical issues that could contribute to a fall. Your PT can then create a workout for you that improves your strength and balance while accounting for any range of motion difficulties, target joints or other considerations you have.
4. Speak Up
Check in with your PT if you have begun to feel less steady on your feet or if you have had a fall in the past year, whether or not you injured yourself. “Many patients may think this is a normal part of aging and not worth mentioning, or they may be embarrassed,” says Flaherty. “But talking about falls is important.”