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Slip-and-fall accidents put seniors at high risk of brain injury

You may be surprised to learn that falls are the No. 1 cause of non-fatal traumatic brain injuries, or TBIs. According to the Centers for Disease Control, slip-and-fall accidents are responsible for over 32 percent of all TBIs in the U.S., but 50 percent among children 14 and younger and 61 percent among adults 65 and older.

A TBI can range from mild concussions to life-altering injuries causing cognition problems, communication difficulties, changes in mood and personality, among other disabling symptoms -- along with an increased risk of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. Sadly, 1.7 million people suffer traumatic brain injuries every year, primarily from falls, motor vehicle accidents, assaults, and simply bumping into something and striking the head.

Unfortunately, seniors are especially at risk. People 75 and older account for around 22 percent of all TBI-related hospitalizations, with men somewhat more likely to be diagnosed with a TBI than women. The symptoms, however, can be subtle in older people, especially because they can mimic other symptoms often associated with aging.

"Adults ages 75 and older have the highest rates of TBI-related hospitalizations and death, and they tend to recover more slowly or die more often from these injuries than do younger people," says the director of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

What can loved ones and caregivers do to help? The CDC recommends these important preventive actions:

  • Make sure seniors’ homes are free of slip- and trip-hazards such as rugs and clutter, and ensure all frequently-used items are in easy reach. Also, install grab-bars both in the tub or shower and next to the toilet.
  • Since vision problems can increase the risk of falls, make sure seniors’ eyesight is checked regularly.
  • Ask a doctor to review all medications the senior is taking -- both prescription and over-the-counter -- for side-effects that could increase the chance of falls.
  • Encourage exercise, which is one of the best ways to improve balance and coordination and which may strengthen bones.

Finally, if a senior is involved in a slip-and-fall or another accident, have them evaluated for brain trauma even if they seem fine, because the symptoms may not be immediately obvious. Learn how to recognize potential signs and symptoms of traumatic brain injuries in seniors at the CDC’s website.

Source: Senior Journal, "Senior Citizens at High Risk of Traumatic Brain Injuries from Falls," Oct. 29, 2013

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