As we age, our bodies go through a variety of changes. Unfortunately, these changes can make seniors more susceptible to injury and trauma. Seniors are particularly vulnerable to traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults aged 75 and older have the highest rates of TBI-related hospitalizations and deaths than any other age group.
The consequences of a TBI can be severe, particularly in older adults. The good news is that caregivers can take steps to protect seniors from the risks that come with TBIs, helping to keep them safe and healthy. In this post, we’ll share some essential tips and strategies for preventing TBIs in seniors so that you can provide the best care and support possible.
Traumatic Brain Injuries: The Risks to Seniors
Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs) have serious consequences for anyone, but the risks to seniors are significantly higher. Seniors are at a greater risk due to a variety of factors, some of which include:
- Weakened bones and muscles: As seniors age, their bones and muscles weaken, making them more prone to falls or other accidents that may cause a TBI.
- Longer healing time: It can take longer for seniors to heal from a traumatic brain injury than younger people since the body naturally takes longer to heal as we age.
- Reduced cognitive capacity: When seniors suffer a traumatic brain injury, they may experience cognitive difficulties that can further reduce their quality of life.
- Greater chance of complications: With an increased risk of complications from the TBI, seniors are at greater risk for long-term physical and psychological issues.
These factors increase the likelihood of seniors suffering from a TBI more than any other age group. As a result, seniors are more vulnerable to several health risks associated with TBIs. Specifically, TBIs can lead to a range of short-term and long-term cognitive, physical, and emotional challenges. Here are some of the most common risks associated with traumatic brain injuries for seniors:
Cognitive impairment is a condition that affects the way a person thinks, remembers, and performs activities of daily living. Seniors who have experienced a TBI are at an increased risk of cognitive impairments, which can have a significant impact on a person’s ability to perform daily activities and communicate effectively.
The most common types of cognitive impairment associated with TBIs include:
- Memory impairment: This can range from difficulty remembering recent events to a complete loss of past memories.
- Attention impairment: This can cause difficulty focusing on tasks or paying attention to details, which can affect learning, communication, and overall cognitive functioning.
- Executive function impairment: This refers to difficulty with decision-making, planning, and organizing, which can impact a person’s ability to perform complex tasks and solve problems.
Seniors who suffer from TBIs are at an increased risk of cognitive impairments because a TBI can cause damage to the brain’s white matter, which connects different areas of the brain and plays a critical role in cognitive functioning. Additionally, seniors may have pre-existing conditions, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, which can increase the risk of cognitive impairment after a TBI.
Fortunately, there are ways to decrease the risk of cognitive impairments following a TBI. These include:
- Early and appropriate medical intervention: Seeking medical attention promptly after a TBI can help to minimize the risk of long-term cognitive impairment. Treatment may include medications, surgery, or other interventions.
- Cognitive rehabilitation: This involves exercises and activities designed to improve cognitive functioning and may be tailored to an individual’s specific impairments.
- Lifestyle changes: Engaging in regular exercise, maintaining a healthy diet, and engaging in mentally stimulating activities, such as puzzles or games, can help to promote brain health and minimize the risk of cognitive decline.
- Support from family and caregivers: Having a strong support network can help seniors to cope with the challenges of cognitive impairment and maintain their quality of life. Caregivers can provide assistance with daily activities and provide emotional support.
By taking these steps, we can help to promote brain health and support the well-being of seniors who have suffered a TBI.
TBIs can also lead to a wide range of physical complications for seniors that can affect their day-to-day activities. Here are some of the most common physical complications associated with TBIs in seniors:
- Balance and coordination difficulties: These can increase the risk of falls and can make it difficult for a person to perform daily activities, such as walking and climbing stairs.
- Weakness or paralysis: This can affect a person’s ability to use their arms or legs, making it difficult to perform basic tasks like eating, dressing, or grooming.
- Spasticity: This refers to muscle stiffness or tightness, which can make it difficult to move or control movements.
Physical complications are more common in seniors who suffer from TBIs because pre-existing conditions like arthritis or osteoporosis can increase the risk of falls and other physical complications after a TBI.
There are several ways to decrease the risk of physical complications in seniors who have suffered from a TBI, including:
- Physical therapy: This involves exercises and activities designed to improve balance, coordination, and strength. A physical therapist can tailor a program to an individual’s specific needs and goals.
- Assistive devices: These include devices like canes, walkers, and wheelchairs, which can help to improve mobility and reduce the risk of falls.
- Home modifications: Making changes to the home environment, such as installing grab bars and removing tripping hazards, can help to improve safety and reduce the risk of falls.
- Medications: Certain medications can help to manage symptoms like spasticity and improve mobility.
- Lifestyle changes: Engaging in regular exercise, maintaining a healthy diet, and avoiding tobacco and alcohol can help to promote overall health and minimize the risk of physical complications.
These methods can help to improve mobility, reduce the risk of falls, and support the well-being of seniors who have suffered a TBI.
Neurodegenerative diseases are conditions that progressively damage neurons in the brain, leading to impaired cognitive and motor functions. Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are among the most common neurodegenerative diseases associated with TBIs.
TBIs can increase the risk of neurodegenerative diseases in seniors for a few reasons. First, the injury itself can cause damage to the brain and nervous system, which can increase the risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases later in life. Additionally, the inflammation and other physiological changes that occur in response to a TBI can also contribute to the development of these diseases. Finally, TBIs can also increase the risk of certain lifestyle factors that have been linked to the development of neurodegenerative diseases, such as alcohol and tobacco use.
These are a few ways to decrease the chance of developing neurodegenerative diseases after a TBI:
- Managing chronic conditions: Seniors with chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease may be at increased risk for developing neurodegenerative diseases. By managing these conditions and keeping them under control, seniors can decrease their overall risk.
- Engaging in physical activity: Regular physical activity has been shown to have neuroprotective effects and can decrease the risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases. Seniors should aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week.
- Eating a healthy diet: A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can help to promote brain health and decrease the risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases.
- Getting adequate sleep: Sleep is essential for brain health and can help to reduce inflammation and promote healing after a TBI. Seniors should aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
- Managing stress: Chronic stress has been linked to the development of neurodegenerative diseases. Seniors should develop strategies for managing stress, such as meditation, deep breathing, or yoga.
- Avoiding alcohol and tobacco: Both alcohol and tobacco use have been linked to an increased risk of neurodegenerative diseases. Seniors should avoid or limit their use of these substances.
Taking these preventative steps can reduce the risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases after a TBI, as well as support their overall brain health.
Emotional and Behavioral Changes
Emotional and behavioral changes refer to any changes in mood or behavior that can occur following a TBI. Depression, anxiety, irritability, and aggression are some of the most common examples of changes associated with TBIs.
TBIs may cause these changes due to damage to areas of the brain responsible for regulating emotions and behavior. These changes can also be compounded by other physical and cognitive impairments resulting from the injury.
Some ways to lower the risk of emotional and behavioral changes in seniors who have suffered a TBI include:
- Seeking treatment: Seniors who experience emotional and behavioral changes after a TBI should seek treatment from a healthcare provider. Treatment options may include medications, counseling, or other therapies.
- Social support: Social support can be an important factor in emotional and behavioral health. Seniors should make an effort to stay connected with family and friends and may also benefit from support groups.
- Engaging in enjoyable activities: Engaging in activities that are enjoyable and meaningful can help to improve mood and reduce anxiety. Seniors should make an effort to engage in activities that they enjoy, such as hobbies or social events.
- Managing stress: Chronic stress can exacerbate emotional and behavioral changes. Seniors should develop strategies for managing stress, such as meditation, deep breathing, or yoga.
- Getting adequate sleep: Sleep is essential for emotional and behavioral health. Seniors should aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
- Eating a healthy diet: A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can help to promote emotional and behavioral health.
While emotional and behavioral changes are common after a TBI in seniors, these preventative measures can help to decrease the risks of these changes and support overall emotional and behavioral health.
A stroke is any sudden loss of blood flow to the brain due to an obstruction within the arteries that supply blood to the brain. Seniors with a TBI are at an increased risk of having a stroke because a TBI can damage the blood vessels in the brain, which can increase the risk of blood clots and blockages that can cause a stroke. Also, a TBI can lead to changes in blood pressure and cholesterol levels, which can also increase the risk of stroke.
Some possible signs and symptoms of a stroke are:
- Difficulty speaking
- Arm weakness
- Blurred vision
- Changes in mood or personality
- Numbness or tingling in the arms and legs
There are several ways to decrease the risk of having a stroke after a TBI, including:
- Controlling blood pressure: Since high blood pressure is a major risk factor for stroke, seniors should work with their healthcare provider to monitor and control their blood pressure.
- Managing cholesterol levels: High cholesterol levels can also increase the risk of stroke, so seniors should also work with their healthcare provider to monitor and manage their cholesterol levels.
- Quitting smoking: Smoking can damage blood vessels and increase the risk of stroke. Seniors who smoke should quit to decrease their stroke risk.
- Engaging in regular physical activity: Regular physical activity can help to reduce the risk of stroke. Seniors should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
- Eating a healthy diet: A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can help to reduce the risk of stroke.
- Taking prescribed medication: Seniors who have had a TBI and are at high risk for stroke may be prescribed medication, such as antiplatelet or anticoagulant drugs, to help prevent blood clots.
These methods can help minimize the risks of strokes for seniors with TBIs, as well as support their overall cardiovascular health. Furthermore, it’s important for seniors who have had a TBI to work with their healthcare provider to develop a plan to reduce their stroke risk and promote overall health and well-being.
The mortality rate for seniors with traumatic brain injury is much higher than it is in younger people. TBIs in seniors can lead to an increased risk of death due to the severity of the injury and the age-related decline in physiological reserves. The risk of death can vary depending on the severity of the TBI, with more severe injuries leading to a higher risk of mortality. In addition, seniors may have other medical conditions or complications that can further increase their risk of death following a TBI.
However, there are ways to decrease mortality risk in seniors who have suffered from a TBI. One of the most important steps is seeking medical attention immediately following an injury to assess the severity of the TBI and initiate appropriate treatment. Early intervention and treatment can help to minimize the extent of brain damage and prevent complications that can lead to death.
In addition to medical care, seniors can take steps to decrease their risk of death by maintaining a healthy lifestyle. This includes eating a balanced and nutritious diet, engaging in regular physical activity, and avoiding risky behaviors such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption. These lifestyle factors can help to improve overall health and resilience, which can be especially important for seniors who have suffered a TBI.
Finally, seniors and their caregivers can work with healthcare providers to develop a comprehensive care plan that addresses their specific needs and risk factors. This may include regular monitoring and follow-up care, as well as support for emotional and cognitive challenges that can arise after a TBI.
Longer Recovery Times
Lastly, it is important to note that recovery times following a TBI can be much longer than with other injuries. This is due to a variety of factors, including age-related declines in physical and cognitive functioning, as well as the potential for pre-existing medical conditions that can complicate recovery. In addition, seniors may have a smaller support network, making it more difficult to manage the challenges of recovery.
The recovery process for TBIs can be complex and may involve a range of interventions, such as physical therapy, cognitive rehabilitation, and psychological support. The specific approach to recovery will depend on the nature and severity of the injury, as well as the unique needs and preferences of the individual.
One way to improve recovery times is to seek medical attention as soon as possible after the injury. Early intervention and treatment can help to minimize the extent of brain damage and prevent complications that can slow down the recovery process.
Additionally, seniors can work with healthcare providers to develop a personalized care plan that is tailored to their specific needs and risk factors. This may include regular monitoring of symptoms and progress, as well as adjustments to the treatment plan as needed.
Seniors and their caregivers can also take steps to promote overall health and well-being, like engaging in regular physical activity, eating a balanced and nutritious diet, and avoiding risky behaviors such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.
Finally, it is important for seniors to have a strong support network during the recovery process. This may include family members, friends, or healthcare professionals who can provide emotional support and assistance with day-to-day activities.
Preventing Traumatic Brain Injuries in Seniors
Preventing traumatic brain injuries in seniors is important not only for their safety but for the safety of those around them as well. While accidents can happen, there are several ways that loved ones can help to reduce the risk of a TBI in seniors.
First, ensuring that seniors have regular check-ups with their healthcare provider can help identify and address any medical conditions that may increase the risk of a TBI, such as osteoporosis or a history of falls. Additionally, encouraging seniors to engage in regular physical activity, such as walking or light exercise, can help to improve balance and coordination, which can reduce the risk of falls.
Modifications to the home environment can also be effective in preventing TBIs. This may include installing grab bars in the bathroom, removing tripping hazards, such as throw rugs or clutter, and ensuring that lighting is adequate throughout the home.
Lastly, it is essential to educate seniors and their loved ones about the risks of TBIs and the steps that can be taken to prevent them. This may include providing information on fall prevention, safe driving practices, and the importance of seeking medical attention following a head injury. By taking these proactive measures, seniors can reduce their risk of a TBI and enjoy a higher quality of life.
Working with a Senior Care Manager
Working with a senior care manager can be an asset in caring for seniors who are suffering from TBIs. Care managers have experience dealing with complex cases and can provide valuable guidance and support to family members. They can also help to coordinate care for seniors, ensure that all necessary services are accessed, and keep families informed about the status of their loved ones’ treatments.
Reach out to us today to learn more about Reflections Management and Care’s services to determine if a care manager is the right fit for your family’s needs. We would be delighted to connect you with a care manager who could be an invaluable asset during your family’s journey.