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Did you know that 1 in every 60 people in the U.S. lives with a brain injury-related disability?

Every March, the Brain Injury Association of America (BIAA) leads the observation of Brain Injury Awareness Month. This recognition aims to spread awareness of brain injuries and their impact on the millions of people living with some form of brain injury in the US. 

Sadly, brain injuries are very prevalent within the senior population. In fact, traumatic brain injuries (TBI) are responsible for more than 80,000 emergency room visits by seniors each year. And, adults ages 75 and older have the highest rates of hospitalization and death related to TBI – with falls and motor vehicle accidents being the leading causes of TBI in seniors. 

Clearly, brain injuries are a serious topic. It is important for seniors and their families to learn about brain injuries – specifically TBI – so they can do their best to prevent them or learn how to cope with them.

What is a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)?

doctor inspecting brain scan

A Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is a type of brain injury caused by trauma to the brain from an external force. This can be a bump, blow, or jolt to the head, or a penetrating injury to the head. 

Sometimes brain injuries are considered primary, with immediate damage – like with a car accident, fall, or gunshot. 

Other times, brain injuries can be considered secondary, presenting gradually over hours, days, or weeks. 

There are 3 main types of TBI:

  • Mild TBI or Concussion
  • Moderate TBI
  • Severe TBI

Mild TBI

A mild TBI or concussion is the most common type of TBI, usually caused by a bump or blow to the head or a hit to the body that causes the head to jolt. Oftentimes mild TBI or concussions are the result of sports injuries. Mild TBI are not usually life-threatening but can affect thinking, learning, sleeping, and behavior for a period of time.  

Moderate or Severe TBI

A moderate or severe TBI is caused by a bump or blow to the head, or a penetrating injury to the head, such as a gunshot. These types of TBI can lead to death, or long-term or permanent damage that can drastically affect someone’s daily life. 

What Causes Traumatic Brain Injuries in Seniors?

senior man after head injury

Brain injuries can be caused by numerous different external forces. Some causes of TBI include:

  • Falls
  • Motor vehicle crashes
  • Firearm-related injuries
  • Sports injuries
  • Blast injuries
  • Being struck by an object
  • Forceful shaking – especially in babies

For seniors, 51% of TBI are caused by falls, and 9% are caused by motor vehicle accidents

Seniors are at an increased risk of TBI due to heightened fall risks, chronic conditions, inappropriate triaging, and longer periods between injury and care. 

What are the symptoms of a TBI?

cartoon image of a brain

Symptoms of a mild TBI can include:

  • Confusion
  • Difficulties with concentration and thinking
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Grogginess
  • Headaches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dizziness and balance issues
  • Fatigue
  • Vision issues
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Sleep issues

Symptoms of a moderate or severe TBI can include:

  • Losing consciousness
  • Coma
  • Weakness in limbs
  • Balance and coordination issues
  • Hearing or vision problems
  • Changes in sensory perception
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty concentrating, thinking clearly, or communicating
  • Amnesia
  • Difficulty managing behavior
  • Impulsivity
  • Anxiety and depression

What are the complications of a TBI?

doctors looking at head xray

All types of TBI can lead to certain complications.

For example, not taking the time to heal a mild TBI can lead to second-impact syndrome, a rare but life-threatening condition in which the brain swells suddenly – causing death or permanent disability.

Additionally, a moderate or severe TBI can lead to complications such as brain bleeds, seizures, permanent brain damage and disability, and a shorter life expectancy. These types of TBI can also increase your risk of developing Alzheimer’s or other memory-related conditions, movement disorders, PTSD, anxiety, depression, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy down the road.

Other long-term effects of TBI can include personality or psychiatric changes, cognitive deficits, motor deficits, sensory deficits, communication and language challenges, social difficulties, difficulties with ADLs and IADLs, disturbances to the regulatory systems such as sleeping, eating, and bladder control.

Seniors have a higher risk of intracranial bleeding after a head injury compared to younger people, and are often on blood-thinning medications that increase their risk of bleeding. 

Can you recover from a TBI?

senior man getting physical therapy

It is possible to recover from a TBI, especially mild TBI. 

For a mild TBI or concussion, the majority of people recover most or all of their regular brain function within 3 months or often sooner.

For a moderate TBI, most people also recover most or all of their brain function but will often need the intervention of neurosurgery, speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, or psychological treatment.

For severe TBI, it is less likely for someone to fully recover. Recovery can vary greatly depending on the trauma to the brain but can be aided with specialized medical care or rehabilitation. 

How to prevent TBI in seniors

doctor showing patient a brain figurine

A TBI is serious, especially for older adults who may have a longer recovery time. However, many TBIs can be prevented with proper precautions.

Since the most common cause of TBI in seniors is falling, it is imperative to take actions to prevent falls before they occur. Some of these precautions are as follows:

  • Remove rugs, cords, excess clutter, and other tripping hazards from your home
  • Install grab bars in the shower and toilet and put non-slip mats in the bath and shower
  • Make sure there is ample lighting inside and outside the house
  • Keep objects within reach to avoid using step stools
  • Have a medical alert device on you at all times
  • Engage in balance training and stay physically active
  • Have your hearing and vision checked frequently
  • Get enough sleep
  • Limit alcohol
  • Talk to your doctor about medical conditions and medications that could cause falls
  • Take extra precautions in wet or icy weather
  • Choose safe, non-slip footwear
  • Utilize a mobility aid like a walker or cane

The second most common cause of TBI in seniors is motor vehicle accidents. Though difficult, there comes a time when giving up the keys is the safest option for seniors and other drivers. Some signs when a senior should stop driving include:

  • Numerous car accidents or close calls
  • Several recent traffic tickets or violations
  • Direct observations from family, friends, or passengers about unsafe driving
  • Mobility challenges like the inability to turn the neck or head
  • Difficulty seeing traffic lights, signs, other cars or pedestrians
  • Getting lost or confused often 
  • Suggestions from a medical professional to refrain from driving

If giving up driving is not an option, consider the following tips for optimal driving safety for seniors in order to prevent TBI:

  • Drive during the best conditions (in daylight hours, not sunrise or sunset, not during rush hour, and not during inclement weather)
  • Always wear your seatbelt
  • Remove distractions like a cell phone, GPS, or radio
  • Leave extra distance between you and the car in front of you
  • Make sure your car is inspected frequently for working lights, brakes, engine, etc.
  • No drinking and driving 

What to do if your senior relative has a TBI

man and nurse holding hands

Helping someone recover from a TBI requires plenty of patience and support from loved ones. Medical professionals and therapists can provide specific guidelines for helping a loved one in their recovery from a TBI. 

If you have an elderly relative with a long-term disability from a TBI, they may require specialized care.

Sometimes memory care communities or skilled nursing facilities are the best option for a senior with serious TBI-related disabilities. 

At memory care communities, rehabilitation centers, or nursing homes, a senior with a TBI can receive various types of intensive, specialized therapy and treatment to help them cope with their condition – especially when they require more serious or round-the-clock care. 

Contact a professional for TBI guidance

Traumatic brain injuries should be taken seriously – that is why the month of March is dedicated to spreading awareness about brain injuries, including their long-term effects on seniors. 

If you have a loved one with a TBI who you think would benefit from memory care or skilled nursing care, reach out to Florida Senior Consulting.

We are experts at guiding Florida seniors and their families through the complexities of finding the right senior living and care arrangements in Florida, including memory care, assisted living, independent living, and nursing homes. We offer these services at no cost to the senior or their family.

Our deep understanding of the unique needs of Florida’s seniors, combined with our comprehensive services, makes us a trusted partner in your journey. 

For detailed guidance and to explore how we can assist you, call us at (800) 969-7176 or visit FloridaSeniorConsulting.com.

Senior living on your terms. The choice should be yours.

Contact Florida Senior Consulting

(800) 969-7176