Brain Injury Awareness: Prevent TBI in Seniors

Elderly woman with a bandaged head, looking sad.

More than 5.3 million Americans live with brain injury-related disabilities. For people 65 years and older, traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a significant problem, sending more than 80,000 seniors to the emergency room every year. Falls and vehicle crashes are the leading causes but, regardless of the cause, age negatively affects outcomes and recovery from TBI.

In honor of Brain Injury Awareness Month, here is what TBI is, looks like, and how to prevent it.

What is TBI?

Most TBIs happen because of a forceful bump, blow, or jolt to the head or body. This injury can disrupt normal brain health and thinking. Even mild TBIs which are not life-threatening may have long-term effects, like cognitive changes or learning disabilities. Some TBIs have been linked to dementia onset years after the injury.

What does TBI look like?

A person does not have to lose consciousness to have a mild TBI. A mild TBI is often referred to as a concussion and usually includes the following symptoms:

  • Not being able to remember what happened for 24 hours or how to do normal tasks
  • Having trouble recalling new information, making decisions, or concentrating
  • Slower speech, movement, and reading
  • Being confused or disoriented
  • A persistent headache
  • Dizziness, or loss of balance
  • Blurry vision and eyes that tire easily
  • Higher sensitivity to sounds and lights
  • Change in sleeping patterns, energy level, or moods
  • Feeling sick to the stomach and/or vomiting
  • Ringing in the ears

These symptoms may appear immediately or may develop over time, including up to weeks later. Usually, the symptoms will go away after a short period, but they may persist for months.

The symptoms of moderate and severe TBI are similar to those of mild TBI, but they last much longer and are more serious. If you suspect someone of having TBI, get them medical treatment immediately, even if it seems to be mild. Older individuals who are taking blood thinners should seek care if they have a bump or blow to the head, regardless of whether symptoms are present.

How do you prevent TBI?

Head and brain injuries can be prevented. These suggestions are geared toward seniors but can be used by people of all ages.

  • Get exercise to improve your balance, coordination, and strength.
  • Wear a seatbelt while in a car or other vehicle; never drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs (including prescription drugs).
  • Have regular eye exams to ensure your prescription is up to date.
  • Remove clutter and trip hazards (like rugs); add lighting in darker areas.
  • Place nonslip mats and grab bars in the bathroom near the toilet and tub or shower.
  • Review your medicines, including over-the-counter medications and supplements, with your healthcare provider to understand potential side effects and drug interactions.

The best cure for brain injuries is to prevent them before they happen.

Sources: Brain Injury Association of America; Journal of the American Geriatrics Society;; Alzheimer’s Association; National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.