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Falls More Likely to Cause Brain Injury in Older Adults

Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) are a large cause of death in the United States. According to the CDC, 153 Americans die from TBI every day. Death and hospitalization rates due to fall-related TBIs increases significantly with age.

No matter the age, a brain injury can be traumatic, but people who are 65 or older are more susceptible to the trauma.

The type of injuries that typically follow a fall are usually physical, but TBIs cause just as many health issues. The side effects of TBIs are usually more long term and can lead to impaired memory, emotional and functional impairments, and long-term cognitive problems.

TBIs can vary depending on the severity of the situation. Sometimes the side effects can be instant, while others may not notice anything until later. Long-term health issues can increase the risk of developing conditions such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Types of Traumatic Brain Injuries

Traumatic brain injuries, like any other injury, can vary on how severity and risks. TBIs are typically ranked from mild, moderate, and severe.

Mild brain injuries are considered to be conditions like concussions. The symptoms show themselves shortly after the trauma and are one of the most common types of TBIs. The effects of a concussion are temporary.

Moderate traumas can often cause unconsciousness. The unconsciousness can last 30 minutes or longer. Moderate traumas can have long lasting side effects.

Severe brain traumas can have serious, long-term side effects. Following a severe brain trauma, you could lose consciousness for 24 hours or more depending on the severity. It could be difficult to recover from a severe brain trauma.

Symptoms

If you have experienced a fall-relatedTBI, watch out for the following symptoms. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, visit your doctor:

  • Blurry vision
  • Ringing in ears
  • Unconsciousness
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Trouble speaking
  • Nausea
  • Hard time retaining information
  • Trouble remembering the cause of injury
  • Easily disorientated
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Vomiting

Treatment

The best treatment option for you will depend on the severity of your TBI. Each type of brain trauma can have a different treatment.

In the case of mild brain injuries, treatment can happen at home with some observation or a quick visit to the hospital. It is common for more severe cases of brain injuries to require inpatient treatment.

Your physician can build a treatment plan for you depending on which type of TBI you are experiencing. It is crucial that you follow through with the recommendations your doctor provides. Even after following your doctors instructions, it is important to remain conscious of your health since you could still be at risk. Monitor for any symptoms that could develop over time.

Study

A recent study has found that older adults aged 70 or older that experience ground-level falls are more likely to experience severe injuries and less likely to survive them.

There is a common misconception that falling from a greater height can cause more severe health complications than a ground-level fall. Previously ground-level falls were associated with minor injuries, but according to the study, older patients are three times more likely to die due to a ground-level fall.

The study was lead by trauma surgeon and researcher Julius Cheng, M.D., M.P.H. His research is the largest analysis of trauma patients who have experienced ground-level falls.

Researchers used data from 57,302 patients with ground-level falls from 2001 through 2005 for the study. The information was pulled from the National Trauma Data Bank along with each patient’s demographic, type of fall, the severity of their TBIs, and final outcomes.

Cheng says, “Our research shows that falls from low levels shouldn’t be underestimated in terms of how bad they can be, especially in older patients.”

There was a 55 percent increase in fatal falls for older adults between 1993 and 2003 due to the general population age increasing. The number of older adults visiting the emergency room has increased and the number is likely to continue growing.

Looking at these numbers, it is likely that trauma centers will need to prepare for more TBI-related treatment in the future.

It is common for older adults to have more pre-existing medical conditions. When these type of patients suffer from something that may be considered low-level, it could still result in something as serious as a broken hip.

The research team found that over four percent of older adult patients died following a ground-level fall, in comparison to one percent of other patients. Patients who are 70 years or older remained in the hospital or intensive care unit (ICU) for longer periods of time. Within that group, only 22 percent were able to return to the way they functioned before entering the hospital.

After reviewing these numbers and seeing that ground-level falls can lead to severe injuries or death, it is important to also know that three-quarters of the total patient numbers with ground-falls do not end up with severe injuries.

What to do

With the limited resources at medical centers in the United States, the research team identified two major predictors of patients experiencing ground-level falls. First, the patient will be 70 years or older. Second, a Glasgow Coma Scale score of 15 or less. The Glasgow Coma Scale is popularly used as an indicator of brain injuries

More research is required for the treatment of older adult patients in trauma centers.

“This study brings up the important question of what we need to do as a society to help our older folks take care of themselves,” said Cheng. “Instead of just treating falls as they happen, the focus should be on what we can do to help older people avoid them in the first place.”

It is also important to plan ahead by working on fall prevention or what to do in the case of a fall. If you are an older adult or you have a family member who fits the bill, something as simple as a medical alert system or starting some home renovations could give peace of mind to everyone involved.

Hannah Verret
Hannah Verret is a Content Developer at Med-Alert Pros in Memphis, TN. Hannah has been working in content creation throughout her entire adult career. When Hannah isn't writing or organizing social media posts, she's spending her time reading and loving on her many pets.

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