Traumatic brain injury, or TBI, has been a hot topic as of late. Sports related TBI’s and those attributed to combat-related injury have been widely discussed in the media, leading to much needed increased awareness on the subject. However, not many people realize that TBI is also a very common problem for our elderly population. For people suffering from conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, stroke, dementia and multiple sclerosis, falls are a very real, and scary, problem. In fact, falls are responsible for more than one-third of all TBIs, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
How big of a problem is it? According to the CDC statistics, of the one in three adults over the age of 65 that fall each year, 20% to 30% sustain moderate to severe injuries, making it hard for them to get around and live independently. Elderly adults are hospitalized five times more often for falls than any other cause of injury. In 2013, the estimated medical costs of fall injuries for people 65 or older was $34 billion. That’s a staggering amount. And with an aging population, the number of falls and the cost to treat them will surely rise.
So why is this such a big problem for the elderly? The anatomy of the brain may play a role. As we age, the brain can atrophy, creating more space between the brain and the skull. People taking drugs such as anticoagulants for stroke are even more susceptible. Since Traumatic Brain Injuries are caused by a force that jolts the brain violently within the skull, that extra room adds to the risk.
Research has shown that moderate to severe TBIs can lead to a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or dementia and in fact, one key study showed that older adults with a history of moderate TBI had a 2.3 times greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s that seniors with no history of TBI. For seniors with a history of severe TBI, that risk grew to a 4.5 times greater risk.
Of course, not everyone who suffers any type of TBI is destined to develop dementia, and there is no evidence that a single, mild incident with lead to increased risk, but the studies continue to seek out the correlation between TBI and increased risk of neurological conditions. Perhaps the most difficult part of treating a TBI lies in identifying it. Many patients go undiagnosed due to a concussion or other mild TBI that has symptoms that go unrecognized. To that end, it is important to know the signs and symptoms of a mild TBI, especially if you have a young athlete or a senior citizen in your care. For a complete list of symptoms, please click here. And remember, if you are unsure, it is always best to talk with your physician and err on the side of caution.