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Seniors & Brain Injury

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“On a moonless summer night my husband fell nine feet from a sleeping loft to the floor and did not die,” writes Alix Kates Shulman. At their remote cabin in Maine, she woke to find her 75-year-old husband lying motionless on the floor below. Although he survived, he suffered injuries that left his brain severely impaired. He was the same — but not the same.

Alix’s husband, Scott, is one of the estimated 1.7 million people who sustain a traumatic brain injury each year. TBI is a special health concern for older adults like Scott. People ages 75 and older have the highest rates of TBI-related hospitalizations and death. They also recover more slowly and die more often from these injuries than do younger people. Falls are the leading cause of TBI. Many of these people will need part-or full-time caregivers.

Many brain injuries are preventable, especially from falls. Here are some strategies for prevention:

  • Encourage Exercise. Exercise is one of the best ways to reduce older adults’ chances of falling. Exercises that improve balance and coordination are especially important, but check with the older adult’s doctor about which exercises are safest and best for them.
  • Make the home or surroundings safer.
    • Remove things from stairs and floors that might cause tripping.
    • Remove small throw rugs or use double-sided tape to keep the rugs from slipping.
    • Place items used often within easy reach, so that a step stool is not needed.
    • Install grab bars next to the toilet and in the tub or shower.
    • Place non-stick mats in the bathtub and on shower floors.
    • Add brighter lighting and reduce glare by using lampshades and frosted bulbs.
    • Be sure there are handrails and lights on all staircases.
    • Be sure the older adult wears shoes that give good support and have thin, non-slip soles.
    • Remind loved ones to avoid wearing slippers and socks or going shoeless.
  • Ask the healthcare provider to review all medicines. Ask the doctor or local pharmacist to look at all the prescription medicines the older adult takes as well as non-prescription drugs like cold medicines and various supplements. As people age, the way some medicines work in the body can change. This could cause a person to feel drowsy or lightheaded, which could lead to a fall.
  • Take the person in your care for a vision check. Make sure an eye doctor checks to be sure eye glasses are correct and that there are no conditions that limit vision, like glaucoma or cataracts. Poor vision can increase the chance of falling.

Aging with a brain injury
Like death and taxes, aging is inevitable. It will happen to all of us. The good news is that research is proving more and more that the brain has an amazing capacity to change and adapt, even into old age. However, for people with brain injury, aging can come with additional issues, including the following:

  • Loss of skills gained in rehabilitation
  • Increased risk for injuries from falls
  • Increased risk for other injuries
  • Increase in medical needs
  • General decrease in endurance, strength, and range of motion
  • Increased risk for social isolation
  • Decrease in independent living skills

Seize the day
No matter what age we are, the best thing to do is to remain focused on staying physically active, socializing with supportive friends and family, getting out and staying involved in the world, and keeping our minds sharp and engaged.


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