The sound of a fall has become all too familiar for our family

Falling backward can be a serious issue for those with Parkinson's disease

Jamie Askari avatar

by Jamie Askari |

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Have you ever witnessed someone falling? One minute they’re walking by your side, and the next, they’re on the ground. Usually this involves slipping on the ice on a cold winter day or drinking too much beer at a college tailgate. But for those of us who have a friend or family member with Parkinson’s disease, falling becomes a common occurrence. Although it happens often, it’s equally stressful every single time.

For the past several years, falling has been a significant issue for my husband, Arman, who was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson’s disease in 2009 at age 38. As the years have gone on, falling has become one of the most challenging parts of the disease. Of course, it wasn’t always this way; falling has slowly settled in as a daily concern.

Before his deep brain stimulation (DBS) surgery, Arman had severe dyskinesia in his legs, causing him to kick with every step. Despite the years of his uncontrollable kicking, he rarely experienced any falls. One of the few times he did, he fell in the street into oncoming traffic and tore his rotator cuff, which had been surgically repaired a few weeks earlier. The fall resulted in a second surgery to repair his rotator cuff, less than a month after the first.

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Predictably unpredictable

After DBS, Arman slowly evolved into this unwanted pattern of unpredictable falls. His balance seemed particularly affected by DBS, but not in a good way. The minor retropulsions (a loss of balance that results from leaning backward) that he’d experienced before DBS became much more intense.

The moment our kids or I hear the sound of his feet moving both loudly (almost stomping) and quickly (always in a backward motion), we know a fall is about to occur. The sound is ingrained in our minds and feels like a knife to the heart. It never gets any easier.

Last Thanksgiving, we had all three of our children home — something we cherish, as we’re so rarely all together. We met our entire family at a restaurant for dinner, which we rarely do. The dinner went smoothly, and lots of laughs were had.

Unfortunately, when we arrived home, Arman was standing in the “danger zone” — the place in our house where he’s had the most falls of late. He stood at the pantry door, looking for a sweet treat for the kids. Suddenly, he stepped back quickly and loudly, hitting his head on the cabinet behind him on the way down. This was particularly stressful as he’d just had eye surgery four days prior and was supposed to be extra careful during the healing process. But like always, Parkinson’s didn’t seem to care. It’ll bring you down to the floor anytime it decides to do so.

Because of these unpredictable retropulsions and falls, I’ve become a pseudo-security guard, minus the muscles, for Arman, trying to protect him from any harm that may come his way. I also know how much Arman values his independence, so it’s a delicate balancing act (no pun intended) to protect him while helping him maintain some sense of normalcy.

I prioritize keeping our home as safe as possible, creating a space with limited clutter to prevent dangerous obstacles. When visiting others, I depend on friends and family to prepare their homes for a safe time. While I do my best to prevent as many falls as possible, some are just plain unavoidable.

Like always, we work hard to maintain a positive attitude through the struggles. The other option would be to let these obstacles bring us down, and we won’t allow that to happen. And when Arman does have a fall, we hope that he falls with style (shoutout to Buzz Lightyear) and with a smile on his face.

Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.


Mike avatar


The Issues that you and Arman face are challenging that is for sure. Falling can be a real problem. Hitting one’s head can be devastating. DBS is a very daunting procedure. It is impossible to predict results. That the two of you have stepped up to the new procedure is admirable. I am very interested in the net benefit of the surgery over the long term. Good luck to you both. Blessings, Mike

Michael Ernest, Sr. avatar

Michael Ernest, Sr.

My wife had PD for over two decades but it was only in the last 5 years of her life she started having frequent falls a couple more serious than others. She passed away at age 78 about a week after a fall down a flight of stairs that caused significant brain and other injuries. I told her never to go up or down stairs by herself. But not wanting to let the disease control her life, she tried on her own to do a household chore that I would normally have taken over. Balance issues were more severe than her mobility. I bought her a alarm button that would alert me if I was outside or in the house. But even with the pendant around her neck, she rarely pushed the alarm button after a fall and was never incapacitated from it. I put cameras in every room that i could monitor her activities. I don’t quite understand her not pushing the button that sounded loud alarms in two locations. I looked for a tilt type alarm she could wear, but despite alarm suppliers suggesting it was a good idea, I could not locate any commercially that would be a substantial for manually pushing the alarm. W

Marti marikovics avatar

Marti marikovics

We know these falls are unpredictable. That is why, as a caregiver I get frustrated when my husband refuses to take precautions. Use a cane, use a walker it could help avoid injury. Talk about pride before the fall. Admitting you need help seems much less embarrassing than falling and needing to call 911. Less stressful for the family for sure.

Carolyn Gramata avatar

Carolyn Gramata

Hello, I've just started reading these articles and can relate to you regarding getting frustrated with giving your spouse clear direction on how to make good choices when walking, turning, etc... In my case, I need to remind myself that my husband has short term memory loss and cognitive impairments.. Which he forgets when making turns and getting himself into a corner then freezing, , He has fallen 3x in January, thank god he didn't hurt himself badly. He uses a walker in the house now as much as he remembers to do so. Good Luck to you and your husband


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