Traumatic Brain Injury & Seniors
March is Brain Injury Awareness Month and it just so happens that Sisters for Seniors has been seeing more and more seniors coping with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) lately. When you look at the research, TBI is sited as a major cause of death and disability in the United States each year, especially in people over 65 years of age. That is why the Center for Disease Control refers to TBI as the “silent epidemic”. TBI is caused by “a bump, blow or jolt” by an external force to the head that interrupts normal brain function. In relation to seniors, TBI is most often caused by a fall (48% of the time), with car accidents being a close second. Traumatic Brain Injury can run a range of severity from mild (most common and usually called a concussion) to severe (extended period of unconsciousness or memory loss). The damage to the brain’s function depends on the location, cause and severity of the trauma to the head. Injuries to the left side of the brain can cause difficulty with things such as understanding language, speech, depression and anxiety, impaired logic and control over one’s right side of the body. Injuries to the right side of the brain causes difficulty with spatial awareness, memory, “big picture” thinking, creativity and loss of control over one’s left side of the body.
Unfortunately, it is common to hear of an older person falling. Whenever possible, assess the person for injuries before moving them. If there was an impact to the head, watch for symptoms including:
- Thin, clear fluid coming from nose or ears
- Loss of consciousness
- Dilated pupils (eye’s black center is enlarged, even in light) or unequal size of pupils
- Blurred or double vision
- Problems with balance when returned to standing
- Difficulty breathing/ slow breathing
- Paralysis or poor coordination
- Confusion / memory loss
- Ringing in ears
- Difficulty speaking
- Loss of bowel or bladder control
If a brain injury is suspected, call 911 immediately and seek immediate medical attention. Doctors use imaging tests to see what damage may have been done to the brain. A wide range of imaging tests such as CAT or CT, MRI, EEG, CTA and x-rays can show abnormalities like brain bleeds and clots as well as the person’s actual brain function. A neuropsychologist will evaluate changes to a person’s cognitive abilities, and help identify the individual’s needs as they prepare to go home. Returning home following a brain injury can be difficult because they may have diminished cognitive ability, memory loss, weakness or change in emotional response. This can create stress at home and add to the caregiving duties of a spouse. This is when having some help at home can make a big difference in quality of life for both people. Sisters for Seniors can help relieve some of the stress by helping with household duties, shopping, meal preparation or giving the family a chance to get out and recharge. If you know someone caring for an individual with a brain injury, or just the normal challenges of aging, call us to see how we can help!!