What's the best way to catch my 91-year-old mother when she falls?

4 answers | Last updated: Sep 14, 2017
A fellow caregiver asked...

My 91-year-old mother occasionally falls for no apparent reason. Her doctor says it may be because she has hydrocephalus, water on the brain, and we agree that treatment would be too taxing for her. She has a walker, but sometimes she just falls anyway. If I'm near her when this happens, is there a right or wrong way to catch her?

Expert Answers

Helen Lhim is director of Rehabilitative Services for the Institute on Aging, Ruth Ann Rosenberg Adult Day Health Center, San Francisco.

Once the momentum of a fall starts, it's difficult to stop it. You're at risk of injuring her as well as yourself if you try to stop the fall. It's better to try to slow down the fall to prevent her from injuring herself and you.

To slow down a fall, position her so that she leans against you, easing her down to the floor with as minimal an impact as possible, especially protecting her head. For example, if you're walking with her and are on her right side and a little bit behind her, put your left hand around her left shoulder and your right hand around her right hip, and if her knees give out, hold her close to you, have her lean against you, and ease her down to the floor. If she starts leaning forward or to the side, you can, again, hold her close to you and guide her down to the floor. Using a gait belt while walking with her is also a good way to move her closer to you if she starts to fall.

If your mother is falling a lot, then try to think in terms of fall prevention. You can keep a record showing the time of day a fall happened, where it occurred, what you suspect may have caused the fall, what was going on prior to the fall, and what injuries occurred, if any. Identifying fall risk factors can minimize both their occurrence and possible injury.

Examples of the kinds of information to consider in a fall record include the following: Did her knees give way? Did she have any physical complaints before it happened? Does she start to lose her balance after a certain amount of time spent standing or walking? Might she need a change in medication? Is there a pattern in the way she's falling? Is there anything in the environment she traverses that needs changing?

If your mother does fall and she complains of pain or you suspect she has injured herself, she should get immediate medical attention. Report all falls to her primary physician. You can also ask for a home healthcare physical therapist to evaluate her for home safety and gait training and to train you in fall prevention.

Community Answers

Gregmcmorrow answered...

Using a gait belt would provide you with the capacity to stop the fall or at least mitigate injury. However, I want to encourage you to change your approach from reacting to a fall and instead place your focus on preventing the fall.

The #1 cause of death for people over the age of 65 is due to falls. Yes, there is almost always an underlying diagnosis, but falling is one of the most dangerous events for the elderly.

I would recommend discussing this with your mother's doctor and determining if a four wheel walker with a seat would be appropriate. This would provide your mother with the opportunity to sit down if she felt dizzy etc...The doctor will assess whether your mother has the capacity to use the hand brakes for the walker.

It also might be time to transition from the walker to a companion chair. This means planning your mother's exercise so that she is never alone when she is walking. The companion chair is much lighter than a wheel chair and folds easily.

Beyond those measures, inspecting your home to remove some of the triggers that cause falls is also recommended. This includes removing loose rugs, mitigating or even eliminating stairs, removing clutter, and ensuring that lighting is effective.

Parrotmom answered...


Exactly what do you mean by "we agree that treatment would be too taxing for her?" Do you mean that the treatment for the hydrocephaly is too taxing or that the treatment for falling is too taxing?

Hydrocephaly is a condition that MUST be treated. I am sure that a neurosurgeon has told you that or that she has a shunt to relieve the pressure on her brain by draining the excessive fluid.

I am sure that you meant that your mother could not take the physical therapy to strengthen her muscles so that she would walk better.

Remember, though, the hydrocephaly will affect parts of her brain, including her coordination. I am sure that this is part of the reason she falls.

Good luck with her.

Lee ann answered...

IF the therapy you referred to as "too taxing" was exercise, here is some advice from another caregiver: Exercise can help someone in any physical or mental condition if done right. Even bedridden and severely demented persons can benefit. I know elderly people who had Physical Therapy in their home just to strengthen them to prevent falling. My father, 99 at the time and using a walker, got several sessions of such therapy while in a nursing home and it was paid for by Medicare. I imagine it was Medicare that paid for the in-home sessions of the others I know. You can ask around for a recommendation to a therapist who is experienced with elderly people and with dementia if that is an issue. You can be there when the therapist comes and learn the exercises yourself so they can be continued after the sessions are finished.

Exercises don't have to be "work". They can be done as entertainment. A great one for balance is to dance with a partner, moving the person forward. Even a person who doesn't know how to dance can walk forward to music. Adding slow turns is great for the balance. Masters class, moving the person backward, is possible with some people.

If the doctor is from the old school and thinks old folks should shuffle off to their arm chair and await death, you can ask around for someone with a more positive aptitude who will order the physical therapy, even if you keep this doctor for the rest of the medical care. Will your Mother be happier in the long run after a bit of exercise, or after a debilitating fall? Exercise is not a guarantee, but it greatly increases the odds of maintaining functioning.

Advice from the experts, another article on this site: "We had classes with very frail older adults who couldn't go to the restroom without an attendant," she explains, and they no longer needed help. In fact, the more weak and out of shape someone is, says Cirill, "The quicker his or her response to exercise."

Go to https://www.caring.com/articles/improving-balance
to the read the entire article

Doing enjoyable physical activity ( exercise) can be a wonderful way to spend time with your loved one. Good Luck.