The big fear when an elderly person falls is broken bones, especially hip fractures. While that danger is very real, head trauma from falls is often overlooked.
Government researchers report an alarming increase in traumatic brain injury among older Americans. They add that seniors who do suffer brain injuries in falls are much more prone to subsequent falls and additional brain damage.
Brain trauma has become a major concern when seniors fall
The Centers for Disease Control reports that each year 1 out of 45 people who are age 75 or older suffers a brain injury that results in an emergency room visit, hospitalization or death. The number of brain injuries among seniors jumped 76 percent from 2007 to 2013, according to the CDC’s data.
No is sure why the elderly are falling more or suffering more head trauma. Some speculate that more seniors are living independently. Perhaps there is simply better reporting and diagnosis of head injuries in seniors. Traumatic brain injuries in the overall population grew 39 percent during the same time span, despite a decrease in brain injuries from car accident.
Why are the elderly so suspectible to brain injury?
Older people are more prone to falling due to physical frailty, impaired vision and diminished balance and reflexes. When they do fall, they are more susceptible to fractures because of loss of bone density and inability to catch theirselves. For the same reason they are at high risk for head injury when they fall. If they fall once, they are more prone to fall again. Researchers at Ohio State also found that one-third of older adults who suffer head injuries have another trip to the ER within 90 days.
At the ER, doctors may not assess for traumatic brain injury, especially if the patient has acute visible injuries such as a broken hip or fractured arm. Also, it can be more difficult to diagnose brain injury in seniors, especially if the patient already has some dementia. When they fall on their own, an elderly person may be scared or embarrassed to admit it, and they will often downplay any head injury.
Diagnosis is important to proper treatment and preventing future falls
If your loved one has unexplained cuts or bruises, or if the hospital, nursing home or assisted living center has notified you about a fall, make sure that they are assessed for concussion/brain injury. Prompt treatment is crucial to traumatic brain injury, to prevent further damage. The care facility should also assess or reassess your loved one for fall risk. They may need additional assistance, such as use of a walker or being accompanied by staff when using the bathroom or getting in and out of bed.