October 17, 2013

By Diane Walker, RN, MS, CSA

A fall can be frightening. For an older adult, it may also bring with it broken bones and even brain injury. Not surprisingly, the chance of a serious fall increases as a person ages. Knowing how to prevent a fall, recognizing the symptoms of brain injury if a fall does occur, and making use of brain injury support available for the patient can make a world of difference for both the patient and the caregiver.

According to the CDC, an older adult, over the age of eighty-five, is twice as likely to be hospitalized due to a fall as someone in the seventy-five to eighty-four year old age range. In addition, they are six times as likely to have a fall that leads to a hospital stay as someone between the ages of sixty-five and seventy-four.

Preventing Brain Injury

There are steps you can take to help prevent a fall and possible brain injury that can result from it.

  •     Most importantly, encourage exercise. When an older individual sits and doesn’t move, their muscles – including the muscles used for balance – can weaken. When the muscles weaken, the person will lose strength and balance. Walking is a simple cure for this, and a great exercise if the person is physically able to do so.
  •     Very often, falls happen on flat ground. Items on the floor can cause someone to trip. It is important to ensure that the home environment or any environment that the older adult will be visiting is free of toys and clutter that could cause a fall. Additionally, be aware of area rugs that roll up or that are not secured to a floor. A loose rug can also cause a stumble.
  •     Some medicines can cause drowsiness. Check the side effects of any medications to determine if this is the case. Drowsiness can make a person more susceptible to falls.

Recognizing the Signs of Brain Injury

Brain injury is not always immediately noticeable. Sometimes, when a person falls they may hurt their hip or have a bone fracture but seem fine cognitively. If a fall has occurred, be sure to have their primary care physician check for brain injury. Sometimes the symptoms will not show up for days or even weeks. Don’t be so focused on “obvious injury” that you overlook a possibly more serious brain injury.

Signs and Symptoms of Brain Injury:

  •     A slight headache that simply does not go away
  •     Difficulty remembering – when this is not normally an issue
  •     Lack of energy / being tired more than normal
  •     Trouble with their balance
  •     Extra sensitivity to light, sounds, and sights
  •     Blurred vision
  •     Loss of smell or taste
  •     Muscle spasms or seizures
  •     Difficulty with concentration
  •     Acting or feeling different than normal
  •     Being overly moody

Keep in mind that signs of brain injury are not always easy to see. Sometimes they can be misinterpreted as signs of another illness. If your loved one exhibits any of these signs, they should see their physician immediately.

Recovering from a Brain Injury
Recovery from a brain injury depends on several factors including the age of the patient, their general health before the injury, and how much time passed between the injury and the initial medical treatment.

The brain injury services of a rehabilitative specialist may be needed. While the patient is recovering, a personal care assistant may be warranted. There are many support groups that can provide needed assistance as well as national networks such as The Brain Injury Recovery Network, and the Brain Injury Resource Center. Make sure you take advantage of available resources for the patient and the caregiver, as well.

When an older adult falls, quick action is called for. A brain injury that received proper and timely medical attention has a much better chance of having a happy, healthier outcome.