Seniors, Head Injuries, and Concussions

Seniors, Head Injuries, and Concussions

If you have ever suffered a fall, you are probably well aware of how frightening it can be. One moment you are upright, the next you are on the floor. Maybe you’re not sure exactly what happened. Maybe you remember every last detail. If you’re lucky, it only scared you and left you with a bruise here or there. If you were wearing a medical alert necklace or wristband at the time, you had the peace of mind that you could call for help, even if you didn’t need to.

But if you’re among the unlucky ones, a fall might have gone an entirely different way.  You might have fractured a bone or hit your head. The aftermath left you confused, dazed, and maybe in a lot of pain. If you have a senior life-saving alert system close at hand, you could reach out for help right away – and you should, as time is of the essence after a fall.

Just recently, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell fell during a dinner event at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in D.C. He hit his head, leading to a serious injury. The 81-year-old politician was admitted to the hospital for treatment and observation, where he was diagnosed with a concussion and broken ribs.

Several days later, McConnell went to a rehabilitation facility to help him recover. An aide to McConnell told CNN that it wasn’t clear how long the Kentucky Republican would be in rehab. “That decision will be made by the Leader’s physicians and the therapists. It is very common to undergo physical therapy to regain strength after a hospital stay and this ranges anywhere from a week to two weeks,” the aide said.1

After hearing the news, you might be wondering what exactly is a concussion and how is it connected to falling? What does it mean if you get one? Just how dangerous is it? And are seniors more at risk?

The Basics of Concussion

A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury. It occurs when your head suffers some sort of blow or violent shaking. It might be due to direct impact, such as falling down in the shower and hitting your head on the wall, or it could be the indirect result of being in a car accident where your head is whipped back and forth as the collision happens, but never actually touches anything.

In these situations, the brain moves around inside the skull. It might bounce around or twist. This can stretch and damage certain parts of the brain, or create chemical changes in the brain.

As a result, elderly adults might experience a wide variety of problems, both immediate and long-term.

Though anyone of any age can get a concussion, seniors are at higher risk of severe outcomes. This is especially true if they are taking blood thinners or other medications that lead to a higher risk of bleeding in the brain. As advances in cardiac care, oncology, and joint replacements allow seniors to remain active and live much longer, falls become a greater risk, and the rates of concussion among the elderly are going up.2

What are the Symptoms of Concussion?

Concussion can sometimes be difficult to spot, as two people who have concussions can experience entirely different symptoms. It might also be more difficult to spot in elderly individuals because many of the potential symptoms, such as balance issues or trouble with memory and concentration, are seen as a part of “normal aging” and could possibly be dismissed by medical professionals.

This is especially true if you fall down and don’t tell anyone. According to the CDC, one in four seniors falls down at least once every year, but less than half tell their doctor.3

If you think you might have a concussion, here are some symptoms:

·        A headache or strange “pressure” in your head

·        Nausea and vomiting

·        Balance problems or dizziness

·        Vision problems, such as blurry vision or seeing double

·        New sensitivity to light and noise

·        Feeling “not right” or “down” – some say they feel sluggish, hazy, groggy, or like they have “brain fog”

·        Confusion or problems with concentration

·        Memory issues that you didn’t have before

If you have seen someone fall or otherwise injure their head and you’re looking for outward signs of concussion, you might notice that they:

·        Are dazed or stunned

·        Lose consciousness, even for a brief moment

·        Might not know what just happened; they might not recall events prior to or immediately after the injury

·        Have clumsy and slow movements

·        Take a long time to think to answer a question

·        Might not be able to follow even simple instructions and seem confused

·        Have mood or personality changes

These symptoms usually show up right after the injury occurs, but they might not appear for a matter of hours or even days. And some symptoms might appear immediately while others show up later; for instance, a headache could happen immediately but a person seems cognitively fine; an hour later, they have no memory of the injury and wonder why their head hurts.4

Different Types of Concussions

Over the span of a few days, the concussion symptoms might settle into certain patterns. That’s because there are six types of concussions, according to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

·        Cognitive/Fatigue: This makes it tough to handle complex or prolonged mental tasks. There might be increased fatigue through the day, decreased concentration, and trouble learning and retaining new information. You could become easily distracted and be unable to multitask.

·        Vestibular: This leads to trouble with motion, balance, and vision. You might find it difficult to coordinate your head and eye movements, or keep your vision steady as you move your head.

·        Ocular: This type of concussion affects your eye movements and your ability to look at your computer screen or mobile phone, or even read long passages in a book.

·        Post-traumatic migraine: This could present as constant headaches, nausea, or sensitivity to light. It might lead to changes in your normal routine, such as sleeping in more.

·        Cervical: Ongoing headaches are a hallmark of this type of concussion. Carrying heavy things on your back or slouching at the computer can make the symptoms worse.

·        Anxiety/Mood: This type of concussion can lead to greater worry and anxiety, increased depression (especially if you already had it), and problems with social interaction.5

As you can see from these six types of concussion, the brain injury can affect everyone in a different way. Just because someone doesn’t have the classic symptoms doesn’t mean that there isn’t injury in the brain.

What’s the Treatment for Concussion?

It’s vitally important for seniors to get immediate treatment for a concussion. Don’t wait! Brain injuries can lead to bleeding, and that can lead to dire consequences. It’s a great idea to have an emergency response system or panic button alarm to reach out for help the moment you suffer a fall or other accident. The sooner you get treatment, the better off you will be.

The most important treatment for concussion is rest. This means both mental and physical rest. Sleeping more than normal is to be expected and is actually encouraged, but keep in mind that you should also be resting your brain from handling mental tasks. For instance, reading a book might be too taxing for your brain after a concussion; even watching television might be too much. It is often recommended to lie quietly in a dark room. Take it very easy on yourself and let your brain recover.

As you begin to feel better, start doing things that you used to do, only in small doses. For instance, don’t read a whole book chapter. Start with just a page. Listen to music very softly and for only small periods of time (start with one song). As you begin to feel better, you can increase the time you spend engaging your brain. If you begin to feel worse, you’re trying to do too much, too soon.

Most concussion symptoms resolve within a two-week period. But depending upon where the injury is in the brain and how severe it is, a concussion can linger for weeks or even months.

How Seniors Can Prevent Concussions

The best way for seniors to prevent concussions is to avoid falls. Implementing fall prevention strategies can help elderly adults stay safe. Here are some other ways to avoid head injuries and concussions:

·        When in a vehicle, always wear your seat belt.

·        When engaging in outdoor activities such as biking or skiing, wear a properly-fitted helmet.

·        Use handrails as you go up and down a flight of stairs.

·        Look to nonslip flooring or mats to help keep your footing.

·        Install grab bars in places where you are more likely to fall, such as in the bathroom and shower.

·        Clean up clutter from around the home to avoid the trip hazard.

·        Move slowly in areas where you might potentially hit your head, such as in a kitchen where the cabinets are open.

·        Improve the lighting in your home so you can see any obstacles in your way.

·        Review your medications to determine if any might make you dizzy or lightheaded. Is it possible to switch to a different medication?

·        Exercise regularly to improve your strength and balance.

·        Speak to your doctor about balance issues right away.

·        Visit your eye doctor to have your vision checked on a regular basis.

If you do fall down and hit your head, it’s incredibly important to get help immediately. Even if you think you’re just fine, you might not be.

Reach out to those who can help you with the use of an Alert1 Medical Alert System. Medical alert devices allow you to simply press a button to get help fast. If you opt for a medical alert system with fall detection, you can have even more peace of mind because fall sensors built into the device can detect a fall and contact an emergency monitoring center right away, so you don’t even have to press the panic button. For seniors with head injuries and potential concussions, time is of the essence to get the best health outcome. Alert1 wishes you health and safety!