Wise Up Initiative, An Initiative of The Al and Sharyne Wallace Foundation Wise Up Initiative, An Initiative of The Al and Sharyne Wallace Foundation
About Head Injuries

Preventing Traumatic Brain Injury In Older Adults

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 (TBI). TBI is a serious health problem for older adults. TBIs can be mild, moderate, or severe.
  • Falls are the leading cause of TBIs in older adults
  • People aged 75 and older have the highest rates of TBI-related hospitalizations and death
You can't see a TBI. Signs and symptoms can be hard to detect. Some show up right after the injury. Others can take days or weeks to appear. See our "General" section for signs and symptoms of TBI.

If you take 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 on the signs and symptoms list .

What should you do if you think you have a TBI?
  • See a doctor right away! Inform them of your injury and your symptoms, and also any medicines you take-prescribed or over-the-counter. Be sure to include any blood thinners or aspirin you take, because they can increase the chance of complications.
  • It's a good idea to write a list of names and doses of all medicines you take. Keep it handy and update it whenever your medicines change. Take it with you when you see the doctor. That way, you won't have to remember everything in a medical emergency.
Questions to ask your doctor:
  • When can I get back to normal activities?
  • Is there any activity I should not do, such as exercise?
  • When can I return to driving (if you currently drive a car)?
  • What drugs should I take or not take?
  • Can I take any other drugs, for example Tylenol or Panadol?
  • May I drink alcohol? If so, how much?
  • What other problems, if any, should I look for related to this injury?
  • Will I need any special treatment or therapy?
  • When do you want to see me next?
How long will it take to get better?
Recovering from a TBI is different for each person. It depends on many things, such as:
  • How severe your TBI was
  • What part of your brain was injured
  • Your age
  • How healthy you were before the TBI
  • How long it took you to get the right medical treatment
  • Healing takes time. Older adults in good health tend to get better faster then less healthy people. Those with medical conditions or other problems that can come with aging may take longer to get well. It's important to get plenty of rest. Rest helps your brain to heal.
Can TBI be prevented?
YES. Remember, falls are the leading cause of TBI in older adults. Here are some things you can do to help prevent falls:
*The best way to prevent a fall is to do all of these things.
  • 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. As a safety precaution, you should check with you doctor about which exercises are best for you.
  • Make your home or surroundings safer. Nearly half of all falls happen at home.
  • Remove things from stairs and floors that might cause you to trip, like papers, books, clothes, and shoes.
  • Remove small throw rugs or use double-sided tape to keep rugs from slipping.
  • Keep items you use often nearby. You should not need to use a step stool to reach them.
  • Have grab bars put in your bathroom. Place them next to the toilet and in the tub or shower.
  • Place non-stick mats in the bathtub and on shower floors.
  • Improve your lighting. We need brighter lighting as we age.
  • Be sure there are handrails and lights on all staircases.
  • Wear shoes that give you good support. They should have thin, non-slip soles. You should avoid wearing slippers and socks and going shoeless.
  • Ask your doctor and/or pharmacist to review your medicines. 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.
What should you do if you have a fall?
Try to remain calm. Check yourself for serious injuries, such as bleeding, sprains, strains, discolorations, or fractures. If you are bleeding, apply firm pressure to the area. If you think you are injured and someone is nearby, call for their help. If no one is nearby, try to get up or crawl to a phone to call for help and get medical attention right away. If you cannot get up, try to keep warm by pulling any nearby rugs, coats, or blankets over and under you.

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