My husband and I are elderly and live in a very rural area. The nearest hospital is more than a four-hour drive away. My husband is starting to get frail, but he insists on doing things around the house like standing on a ladder to clean out the gutters. He's even unsteady walking up and down the stairs. I'm scared to pieces that he's going to fall and hurt his head. If this does happen, what should I do?
The best thing to do is to try and prevent an injury from happening in the first place. As you probably know, 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. Those grim facts aside, there are many effective ways to help prevent falls. These can include making living spaces safer by using nonslip mats in the bathtub and on shower floors, improving lighting in the home, and installing handrails on both sides of the stairways. Other preventative measures include getting exercise on a regular basis, keeping up-to-date with your vision checks, and talking to your doctor about any side effects from medications like dizziness, fatigue, or other symptoms that could someone more susceptible to falling.
In the case of an elderly person who has suffered a head injury, calling an ambulance right away is the safest thing to do. If your husband sustains a brain injury, don't try to drive him to the hospital yourself.
In the United States, paramedics and EMTs are trained to treat head injuries and to bring you to the nearest hospital — typically a trauma center — with a CT scanner and the capacity to handle a life-threatening brain injury.
If the nearest hospital from where you live is fours hours away by ground, the pre-hospital providers may elect to summon a helicopter that can transport you as quickly as possible to the nearest trauma center.
Dr. Bazarian is an emergency physician with a strong research interest in traumatic brain injury. He is associate professor of Emergency Medicine, Neurology, and Neurosurgery at the Center for Neural Development and Disease, University of Rochester Medical Center.