Age Groups

Understanding Brain Injury In Seniors

brain injury in seniors

A traumatic brain injury, also known as a TBI, can have profound and lasting side effects. Most especially for the elderly. This is because recovering from a TBI is more difficult for elderly patients.

Many factors may affect the rate of recovery and side effects in traumatic brain injury patients, most notably age plays a large role in TBI recovery.

Considered a silent epidemic, TBIs affect millions of young, middle-aged, and elderly patients yearly. Depending on the injury, TBIs may lead to severe disability and could greatly affect a patient’s quality of life. 

Traumatic Brain Injury in Seniors

Every year, about 2.5 million Americans sustain a traumatic brain injury, which has become a major problem for victims of a certain age. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults 75 years and older had the highest rates of TBI-related hospitalization and death in 2020.

Of these numbers, 32% of hospitalizations and 28% of TBI-related deaths came from this age group.

Falls are the most common cause of traumatic head injury among older adults. More than 80% of falls in adults aged 65 and older are caused by falls.

Diagnosing TBIs in Seniors

Although older adults are more likely to sustain a severe head injury, TBI diagnosis is underrepresented in this age group. TBIs are often missed or misdiagnosed in the elderly population. It is much harder to detect a TBI in an older individual due to an overlap with pre-injury disability and comorbid conditions. The symptoms of which may be similar to that of a brain injury.

The prescribed medications geriatric patients take may also dull the response and symptoms that result from the traumatic injury. In worst-case scenarios, these medications may also increase the risk of complications.

If you suspect your loved one to have sustained a traumatic brain injury, here are some things to look out for:

  • Do they have frequent headaches?
  • Has their mood changed? Are they more irritable, angry, or confused?
  • Do they act differently than usual?
  • Have they stopped engaging in social activities?

If your loved one has exhibited any of these signs, they must see a health care provider immediately.

Certain diagnostic testing is the best way to get a clear picture of the injury. Your doctor may require neurologic examinations and a neurological assessment such as the Glasgow Coma Scale. A GCS is often used as an initial assessment score for patients with a TBI.

However, some research shows that the Glasgow Coma Scale may not be entirely accurate. Other diagnostic testing, such as laboratory studies, may be required.

Increased Risk Factors in the Elderly

The risk of dementia is much higher in individuals that have sustained a traumatic brain injury. Some data reports that moderate to severe injuries greatly increase the risk for dementia.

Some studies have found that older adults who have had a moderate or severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) have a well-established risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s disease than those without a history of head injury. The risk is 2.3 times greater for those with a history of moderate TBI, and 4.5 times greater for those with a history of severe TBI.

Previous research has shared that repeated mild TBIs also increase dementia risk. In the 1920s, it was discovered that professional boxers often showed evidence of trauma and mental decline after a few years of boxing. This condition is now known as CTE or chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

TBI Prevention

As previously mentioned, TBIs in the elderly are fall-related injuries. Motor vehicle collisions and assaults such as domestic violence are other more common causes of closed head injuries.

Falls are a more common occurrence among the elderly due to several factors, such as poor eyesight or physical conditions that affect their strength and balance. A singular fall may make an older individual more prone to future slip-and-fall accidents.

Once at a certain age, we must consult with a health care provider in order to avoid events such as slip and fall accidents from occurring. Here are some ways older adults can help prevent fall-related TBIs:

  • Engage in strength and balance exercises
  • Have your eyesight checked by the appropriate physician
  • Remove things in your home that may cause you to trip
  • Installing stair railings
  • Install grab bars in your bathroom
  • Ensure that your indoor lighting is adequate

For a more comprehensive plan on how to avoid falls, consult a doctor or occupational therapist.

TBI Rehabilitation

Recovery may be slower for elderly patients with head trauma due to their “aging brain”. The patient may also already have a pre-existing condition. However, recovery is still possible with proper rehabilitation, aggressive treatment, and acute care.

Geriatric trauma patients can find the rehabilitation and future care they need from a trauma center and an inpatient rehab facility. The level of rehabilitation needed will depend on the injury severity. Here, elderly trauma patients will receive personalized clinical care and therapy throughout their stay.

Benefits of Therapy for Elderly Patients

Again, depending on varying factors of your injury your rehab program will be specially designed for you and your needs, and these therapies or programs may change over time as your needs and abilities change over time as well.

Possible treatments or therapies may be:

Traumatic brain injuries and the complications of head injury can cause adult patients to acquire post-TBI depression. A common problem after sustaining a TBI, major depression may not always occur immediately. For some, the onset of depression may occur months after injury, and for others even several years after. Therefore, psychotherapy is a crucial part of a post-TBI care package.

One of the goals of care is to ensure that the patient’s level of functional outcome following the injury will still allow them to continue or return to their normal daily living. With this in mind, it is important that even after discharge, victims of TBIs continue with their therapy at home.

Some research has shown that elderly patients who immediately stop therapy after discharge have poor outcomes in contrast to patients who continue their therapy after returning home.

Patients are advised to continue therapy and exercise at least once a day in order to achieve the best possible outcome.

Traumatic Brain Injury Elderly Prognosis

Traumatic brain injury in seniors are serious medical conditions that significantly change how patients live their lives post-injury.

On average, the geriatric population who have sustained a TBI have a higher mortality rate than those younger and much slower rates of recovery. Studies have also shown that older TBI patients have more adverse outcomes in regard to functional status following a TBI compared to younger patients.

Despite all this, brain injury recovery is still possible, even at an advanced patient age, so do not lose hope!

Get the Help You Need and Deserve

If you know of an elderly head trauma patient who has suffered a brain injury, there is help available. At California Brain Injury Help Center, we can provide you with the resources and support you need, and help you get the medical treatment required.

Should you choose to file a personal injury claim against the at-fault party, we can help you obtain the legal representation you need. Do not hesitate to contact us. You can reach us at (866) 576-0936

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