Traumatic Brain Injury in Seniors on the Rise – But We Can Slow It Down

Emergency rooms across the country have reported an alarming rise in the number of traumatic brain injuries treated in recent years, according to a new report.

We are hearing more and more about concussions changing the lives of those participating in team sports but the numbers reported in this prevalence study showed that the largest gains were seen in children under three and adults over sixty.

Our senior loved ones are suffering from more traumatic brain injuries than ever before and seeking treatment in the emergency room. Over 950 hospitals across the country saw 2.5 million ER visits for this reason in 2010.

Most injuries were reported as minor, treatment was rendered and the patient sent home but some were more serious.

Traumatic Brain Injury

What exactly qualifies as a traumatic brain injury, often called TBI by healthcare professionals?

This type of injury occurs when a blow, bump, jolt or other trauma results in damage to the brain. The worst traumatic brain injuries can lead to permanent brain damage.

TBI symptoms such as headache, neck pain, nausea, dizziness or loss of balance, fatigue, convulsions, inability to awaken, slurred speech or vision, changes in sleep, mood changes including irritability, increased confusion, and weakness in extremities may not appear for days or even weeks after the actual injury. When these symptoms begin to worsen, it is time to get medical attention.

If your senior loved one has a fall or accident, it is important to be on the lookout for these symptoms, since many times there won’t be an apparent injury. If they are taking a blood thinner, it is recommended that your senior seek immediate medical treatment from the doctor or ER whether you see any symptoms or not.

After your senior receives treatment following a TBI, he or she will recover at their own pace and every person is different. Healing fully can take some time depending on their prior medical health. It will be very important to get plenty of rest to help the brain recover.

Preventing Traumatic Brain Injury

It is a fact that the primary reason seniors suffer a traumatic brain injury is from a fall. That means a key way to prevent brain damage from a TBI is to do everything you can to prevent the fall from occurring.

  • Encourage your senior to increase their strength and balance. The best way to do this is to remain physically active everyday. There are a number of activities that can help improve balance including yoga, dancing, tai chi, strength training, yard work, balance exercises, and other physical movement. The key to gaining strength is consistent participation. Your senior can’t be active once in awhile to get stronger but needs to do something daily.
  • Make their surroundings as safe as possible. Install grab bars in the shower, near the toilet and at the sink, wherever they may be prone to slipping on water. Remove all throw rugs. Nail down any loose floor boards, thresholds or stair treads. Have sturdy handrails on every stairway inside and out. Install adequate lighting in any dark place and be sure it is functional. Keep their living area free from clutter. Keep the things they need or use frequently in easy reach. Store things within reach so there will be no need to stand on a chair for the canned food. Inspect their shoes and be sure they are not worn out. The soles should be non-slip and intact. They should have good support and fit correctly. Check out any slippers they wear too. Discourage them from wearing only socks. Throw away any inappropriate shoes so they can’t use them inadvertently.
  • Get your senior loved one a vision checkup to be sure they are seeing everything in their path. If they need a new prescription, now is the time to fill it. Also, be sure that they are wearing their glasses as prescribed. They can’t see clearly if their glasses aren’t clean so it would be a good idea to check that when you can.
  • Ask the pharmacist or doctor to do a medication review to be sure there aren’t any drug interactions that could lead to light headedness, dizziness or confusion – – any of which might lead to a fall.
  • Be sure your senior loved one is drinking enough water. If they get dehydrated, it could lead to symptoms such as dizziness and fatigue that may result in a fall.

Assess Seniors’ Homes for Fallproofing

As your senior lives in the home of their choice longer and may be living in a home that they have lived in for some time, it becomes even more important to maintain the home well to prevent falls.

It might be a good idea to have an occupational therapist complete an evaluation of the home to find ways to cope with the environment, suggest remodeling strategies or provide adaptive devices that could help keep your senior from falling. Many older homes were not built with an aging senior in mind and could use some renovations to allow seniors to age in place as desired.

Don’t stop with assessment, though. Make family plans to implement the remodeling strategies you can handle and arrange for a contractor or local handy person to take care of the rest.

We hope your senior never falls, but preventing what could be inevitable is time we know you don’t mind spending.