Wednesday, November 2, 2011

How to Help Granny Survive a Fall

I write a lot about how to modify bathrooms, the most dangerous room in the home, to prevent seniors from falling.  But seniors will still fall because with age comes a natural decline in health.

Seniors may have cognitive, balance or mobility issues.  Perhaps they have neurological problems associated with a stroke or Parkinson’s disease.  Pain from arthritis could affect how they move. Even a dangerous cocktail of medications could compromise their balance.

So here’s the scenario. Granny steps out of a warm, relaxing bath and onto the wet, slippery tiles. Her feet take on a life of their own, escaping from underneath her as she plunges to the ground, landing smack on her posterior and narrowly avoiding a broken hip.   Now what?

Don’t Panic
Panic is the first reaction for most seniors.  It’s only natural.  Granny’s all alone. She’s wet, cold, and feeling bruised, battered and somewhat helpless. Literally adding insult to injury she’s naked as the day she was born.  She feels incredibly vulnerable. How can she get out of this situation without being completely embarrassed and being moved out of her home?

Step 1: Breathe and Evaluate 

To avoid panic, Granny needs to take a few deep breaths and assess the situation.  Are all her bones intact?  Is she seriously injured?

Step 2: It Depends

Step two depends on the results of Granny’s self-assessment. If she decided she wasn’t seriously injured, it’s time for her to get up. Very slowly.  With caution.

Granny needs to:
  • Roll onto her side, bend the top leg and lift herself onto her elbows or hands.
  • Pull herself toward a sturdy object, such as the edge of the bathtub or a stable chair, then kneel with both hands on the object.
  • Place her stronger leg in front, hands still on the chair.
  • Stand up.
  • Turn around slowly and sit down in the chair.

Just like anything else, practice makes perfect so Granny should practice this routine.  It will help her to avoid panic if she ever falls. Also, while she’s practicing, she may just decide it’s worth remodeling the bathroom for safety.
If, however, Granny feels she was seriously injured, she should not attempt to get up. If she thinks someone could hear her, she should call for help.  If not, it’s time to use her emergency alert device. She has one doesn’t she?

While help is on the way, Granny needs to stay warm, comfortable and hydrated.  So she should keep a blanket, pillow and even bottled water stored at a low level. 

Keep the people you care for safe. 

Bye for now……George Flowers.

Has anyone you love or care for ever fallen in the bathroom?  How did they handle it?

Do you have any tips to prevent falls?



  1. Your post addresses an all too common situation. Bathroom falls. With the hard surfaces, it is likely something is going to hurt. I am sincerely happy you mentioned a medical alert system. We all seem to commoditize our health and while a medical alert device is not insurance paid at this time, it should be a part of every senior's life. A medical alert system is like car seatbelt, you often don't get to use them but when you do, it can save your life. Thanks for mentioning the medical alert system in your post!

  2. One great way to prevent falls is to get regular exercise. So many seniors simply don't. Regular exercise will help improve balance which is key to preventing falls.
    Muscle mass decreases with age but it can also be built up with exercise. Even if an older adult has arthritis there are exercises her or she can do to mitigate the effects of this condition. In fact, if a senior has arthritis they should definitely be getting exercise under the advice of a qualified older adult fitness specialist.
    Any movement however small, done on a regular basis, is better than none. Exercise not only helps prevent falls by building up the body, it also helps build the older adult's self-esteem and improves mood and quality and duration of sleep. All of these, help make falls less likely. They also help mitigate the effects of any falls that do happen.

  3. Jay:

    I love your analogy of a medical alert system being like a car seat belt. It helps seniors understand why they should get something that, hopefully, they will never need. If a senior needs it, however, it could save their life.


    You're quite right. Exercise is an excellent antidote to falling. It's sad that when people get older, they become more scared to move around, fearing that they might fall. The end result is they become weaker and more likely to fall.

  4. A medical alert device with automatic fall detection is an excellent tool to have in this situation. Balance and strength exercises are great too, but I really love your idea of practicing what to do in the event of a fall. We have fire and tornado drills why not "fall drills"? I can see value in putting the senior on the floor so they can get the feel for what the room looks like from that perspective. Then help them go through the assessment of their body and figure out how to get up on their own. This could really help take the shock out of a real fall and put the senior in control of an otherwise out of control situation.

  5. Most adults, including seniors, do not understand how much muscle tone they lose by their 80's. I suggest, during home safety presentations, that a senior should actually see if they can rise from a sitting position on the floor. Of course there should be someone with them who knows how to help a senior get up from the floor, when they do this simple test. A help button is almost always the next step once a senior realizes how vulnerable they are to falls and how difficult it is to get up from the floor.

  6. Other than referring to an older woman with the diminutive "granny" which is objectionable, there are some good tips in the post. I am one of those seniors you all mention. I cannot use my knees so must drag myself to a heavy piece of furniture. I fell in an "accessible" bathroom in a DC hotel and after hearing nothing from them in response to my 2 letters I filed a Title III ADA complaint against them. I work out at a gym regularly.

  7. I apologize to anyone who finds the term "granny" to be objectionable. I think of it much more affectionately, remembering those who bore that title in my life.

    Also, I'm sorry to hear about your fall, but it's great to know you're working out--empowering yourself by getting stronger so you can avoid future falls. You're taking the right approach. After a fall, many seniors will start to constrict their lives and do less. Ironically they become weaker and more likely to fall.