Traumatic Brain Injury Traumatic Brain Injury
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Traumatic brain injury (TBI)—which is caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head—is a special health concern for older adults; however, they are often missed or misdiagnosed among this group.
Most of us worry about staying safe, healthy, and independent as we get older. If you are concerned about living better and longer, you should know the facts about traumatic brain injury.
Falls are the leading cause of TBI. People 75 years of age and older have the highest rates of TBI-related hospitalizations and death. Family members and other caregivers of older adults can help protect their loved ones’ health and independence by:
• Reducing their risk for falls
• Recognizing the signs of TBI after a fall occurs
• Taking the appropriate steps when signs of TBI are observed
Listen to a podcast that provides tips on how older adults can prevent falls and related injuries, such as TBI.
Send a Health-e-Card with tips to help prevent falls among seniors and to recognize and respond to TBI in older adults.
Know the Signs
Because TBIs are often missed or misdiagnosed in older adults, watch for these signs and symptoms if you know the older adult in your care has fallen or has a fall-related injury, such as a hip fracture.
Symptoms of mild TBI:
• Low-grade headache that won’t go away
• Having more trouble than usual remembering things, paying attention or concentrating, organizing daily tasks, or making decisions and solving problems
• Slowness in thinking, speaking, acting, or reading
• Getting lost or easily confused
• Feeling tired all of the time, lack of energy or motivation
• Change in sleep pattern—sleeping much longer than before, having trouble sleeping
• Loss of balance, feeling light-headed or dizzy
• Increased sensitivity to sounds, lights, distractions
• Blurred vision or eyes that tire easily
• Loss of sense of taste or smell
• Ringing in the ears
• Change in sexual drive
• Mood changes like feeling sad, anxious, or listless, or becoming easily irritated or angry for little or no reason
A person with moderate or severe TBI may show the symptoms listed above, but may also have:
• A headache that gets worse or does not go away
• Repeated vomiting or nausea
• Convulsions or seizures
• Inability to wake up from sleep
• Dilation of one or both pupils
• Slurred speech
• Weakness or numbness in the arms or legs
• Loss of coordination
• Increased confusion, restlessness, or agitation
If you are taking blood thinners (e.g. Coumadin) and have a bump or blow to the head, you should be seen immediately by a health care provider, even if you do not have any of the symptoms listed above.
For more information on signs and symptoms of TBI, see “Help Seniors Live Better, Longer: Prevent Brain Injury.”
Can TBI Be Prevented?
Yes. Remember, falls are the leading cause of TBI in older adults. Here are some things you can do to prevent falls:
• Exercise. Start a regular exercise program, if your doctor agrees. Exercise is one of the best ways to reduce your chance of falling. It helps you become stronger and feel better. Exercises that improve balance and coordination, like Tai Chi, are most helpful.
• Make your home or surroundings safer. Nearly half of all falls happen at home. Some things you can do to make your home or surroundings safer include: removing clutter from stairs and floors; removing small throw rugs or using double-sided tape to keep the rugs from slipping; having grab bars put in your bathroom; improving your lighting; and more.
• Ask your health care provider to review your medicines. Ask your doctor or local pharmacist to look at all the medicines you take. These might include some that don’t need prescriptions, like cold medicines and various supplements. As we age, the way some medicines work in our bodies can change. Those changes could make us drowsy or light-headed and lead to a fall.
• Have your vision checked. The eye doctor should be sure you have the correct eyeglasses and that you have no conditions limiting your vision, like glaucoma or cataracts. Poor vision can increase the chance of falling.