How do I get my mother-in-law to stop climbing on cabinetes before she hurts herself?

1 answer | Last updated: Oct 01, 2016
Nanajudy asked...

My mother-in-law is 81 and I have just found out she is climbing and getting into the very top cabinets. There is a gun in the top cabinet and she has been rambling so that she actually knew where it was. How do I stop her from climbing before she falls? I told her if she didn't stop we would have to place her somewhere and her smart answer is where back to my house. I told her a nursing home to keep her safe.

Expert Answers

Bonita Lynn Beattie is the vice president for injury prevention for the Center for Healthy Aging, part of the National Council on Aging (NCOA). She directs the NCOA's Falls Free Initiative, which is developing and implementing a national action plan to prevent falls and fall-related injuries in older adults.

Thank you for your inquiry about risky behavior taking by your mother in law. You are right to be concerned with her climbing on cabinets and the potential for fall related injuries. A number of questions and suggestions come to mind from your brief but obviously frustrated inquiry. First I am assuming she is living with you now. So let me share some thoughts: 1. Is this new behavior being exhibited by your mother in law?
If so, a medical assessment is warranted to address any cognitive or behavioral changes that are facilitating her risky behavior. New medications or changes in medication therapy may also be contributing to behavior changes and should be assessed. Alternately she could be depressed, so regardless it sounds like it's time for a medical assessment

  1. If this is ongoing behavior, can you or another member of the family or friend who has a more positive interaction with your mother in law enlist her help in promoting her independence and ability to live in that house by moving those items she frequently uses to lower shelves that are more easily accessible? It seems from your comments you need the help of someone she does listen to or interact with more positively. Others might include her health care provider or minister.

It is very important to allow your mother in law to be part of the decision making and problem solving in her living environment and with some guiding she might be willing to make some changes to increase her independence and safety.

  1. The weapon is equally troublesome. It sounds like you own the gun and she knows where it is located and can access it? Could the behaviors be suicidal or depression related? In the interim what about moving the weapon to a secure location and lock box as required by law in most states? With her behavior changes you are right to want to limit her access. We went through that with my own Mom who was exhibiting behavior changes and actually owned a personal handgun. We enlisted the aid of her health care provider who helped guide her to allow us remove the gun from the premises.

  2. Threatening her, even in jest, with a nursing home as the next step may be facilitating some of her behavior to show you she is still capable, albeit inappropriately. It may also be a symptom that you are being overwhelmed and could reflect the need for care-giver respite. Such support might be available through your church or your Area Agency on Aging (AAA); find your local AAA through contacting or you can call 1-800-677-1116. The AAA can also inform you of local community programs for your mother in law that are available to prevent falls and enhance well being. Programs like A Matter of Balance help older adults in taking control of their fall risks and making appropriate behavior changes.

That is really a tough question that I hope I have been helpful in addressing.