Beloved actor Bob Saget’s recent death has brought to light the importance of education and prevention of traumatic brain injuries as a result of falls.
According to research published in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society (2006), “traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a significant problem in older adults.” Adults over the age of 75 have the highest number of TBI resulting in hospitalization and death. According to research in the Journal of Neurotrauma (2018), “Sport- and military-related TBI have garnered considerable media attention; however, the highest combined incidence of TBI-related emergency department (ED) visits, hospitalizations, and deaths actually occurs in older adults.”
The majority of TBI in older adults are a result of falls. Motor vehicle accidents are the second leading cause but only make up 9% of TBI; whereas falls make up more than 50% of TBI.
What do we need to know about falls and TBI to keep ourselves safe and educated about this “silent epidemic?”
Facts About TBI in Older Adults
- Falls at ground-level are the most common cause of injury in older adults.
- The rate of fall related TBI is three times higher for people aged 75+ than for other age groups.
- A history of one fall significantly increases risk for falling again, which increases risk for repetitive TBI injury.
- Of all the possible physical injuries, injury to the head is most likely to be fatal.
- Other health conditions can affect treatment of and recovery from a TBI. Dementia, for example, can make recovery from a TBI slower and more challenging. TBI related to falls (rather than car accidents, for example) are more often related to other health conditions, such as Parkinson’s Disease or depression.
- Environmental conditions contribute to many falls. Objects in the middle of the floor or rugs are often leading causes of falls in older adults. Keeping living environments safe for older adults is key to avoiding falls.
Tips for Keeping Environments Safe from Falls
- Remove rugs or secure them with double-sided tape so they don’t curl up and become a hazard.
- Keep toiletries, clothing, dishes, glasses and cooking instruments within reach.
- Use non-slip mats in bathroom areas, especially near showers and tubs.
- Install grip bars in bathrooms near showers, tubs and toilets.
- Keep living spaces well-lit and add more lighting if necessary.
- Keep walkways and doorways free of clutter or blockages (boxes, baskets, tools, etc.).
- Apply non-slip treads on stairways and steps.
- Ensure steps have proper access to sturdy handrails.
Tips for Personal Care to Avoid/Prevent Falls
- Wear sensible, non-skid shoes (rubber soles and low heels help) for better balance.
- Get plenty of sleep (sleepiness makes us more likely to fall).
- Stand up slowly to avoid dizziness and/or loss of balance.
- Use assisted devices if helpful or necessary (walker, cane, etc.).
- Have your vision tested regularly and wear corrective lenses if necessary.
- Have your hearing checked as well. Hearing loss is associated with 3 times more falls.
- Get plenty of exercise, especially strength training. Muscle weakness is a key factor in falls.
- Building your balance through balance strengthening exercises such as yoga. Balance is a great prevention strategy.
3 Steps for Creating a Fall-Prevention Plan
- Identify how safe the environment is in your home or work. Can you get to the car without dodging clutter? Can you get upstairs safely? Is there a grab bar installed in the bathroom to get into and out of the bathtub?
- Identify personal fall prevention measures. Do you need to begin a strength training plan for muscle strength? How is your balance? Have you had your vision and hearing checked recently?
- Identify ways to alert healthcare professionals (like emergency services) in the event of a fall. Medical alert systems can be worn on the person (https://www.medicalalert.com/fall-detection/) or can be used via personal technology like an Apple watch (https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT208944).
Fall prevention and TBI prevention are an important aspect of health and wellness among all adults and especially older adults. Caring for a loved one should include a fall-prevention plan that helps avoid falls both personally and within the environment. Helping ourselves and our loved ones stay safe means less worry and more time enjoying great overall health.