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Concussion in the Elderly

When we think of people that suffer from concussion, we think of athletes. This type of injury is associated with athletes, active children and young adults but very rarely with the elderly with good cause.

A concussion event happens when the brain is shifted forward or backward in the skull. There may not be any indication that there was any trauma to the head like a visible wound. This type of injury can come from a jolt to the body that is forceful enough that the head snaps around, a jolt to the head itself or a blow to the head.

Typically, since seniors are not out participating in violent sports like football or boxing and are not driving around getting into car accidents, they are not the first demographic group that people think of when they consider a concussion.

Many times, the injury is masked in seniors because some of the symptoms can be similar to that of dementia and other aging disease. According to Brainline.org (an organization that is focused on traumatic brain injury education), the following symptoms are relative to diagnosing a concussion:

  • Slowed speaking, thinking and reading
  • Mild to moderate confusion
  • Changes in sleep pattern
  • Mood swings
  • Complaints of headaches or neck pain
  • Trouble understanding directions

Many of the “symptoms” are often misdiagnosed in seniors or attributed to other illnesses.

Increased Risk of Dementia

Concussion can increase the risk of dementia in elderly patients according to a study published in JAMA Neurology. The study found that in adults age 55 and older, even one brain injury could increase the risk of developing dementia.

The study looked at over 160,000 patients at the Veterans Hospital that experienced some sort of head/body trauma. The study found that almost 60,000 of them had experienced a brain injury (concussion) from the trauma with 8.4% developing dementia. Of the patients that did not experience a concussion, only 5.9% went on to develop dementia.

In the TBI patients, dementia set in on average within 3.2 years or less.

Another study found that patients with Alzheimer’s disease that suffered a brain injury had more plaque buildup than patients with Alzheimer’s disease that did not suffer a brain injury.

Risk Factors for Concussion in the Elderly

The greatest risk factors for a head injury in seniors are living in a nursing home and falls. Research has indicated that a senior aged 65 or older that is living in a nursing home is at an increased risk of falling when compared to seniors aged 65 and older living in the community. The increased risk for a fall in a nursing home can be up to 2.6 times.

Falls are one of the most preventable dangers for seniors in a managed care facility yet studies indicate that seniors are at a greater risk for falls in a managed care facility than they are anywhere else.

Preventing mild brain trauma through fall management is imperative in nursing homes and other managed care facilities for the elderly because even the mildest of concussions can be a death sentence for a senior.

The risk of developing a blood clot on the brain for a senior is increased when there is a brain injury, which can cause irreparable damage to the brain. Immediate emergency medical care is required any time a senior takes a blow to the head or there is some sort of jolt to the body.

The Failing

Unfortunately, many nursing homes do not act quickly enough when a senior is injured. The staff may take a “let’s wait and see” approach because they do not want to have to fill out extensive injury reports. This is neglect and it is a failing that could leave a loved one with permanent brain damage.

Get Involved

It can be hard to stand up to a nursing home but if you suspect that something has happened to your loved one, it is up to you to get to the bottom of it.

  • Ask questions of the staff.
  • Speak to your loved one ask them how they are feeling and what is going on.
  • Don’t let staff members convince you that odd behavior that suddenly crops up is “normal”.
  • Contact an attorney that can help.

Don’t be afraid to ask staff members what is going on with your loved one and don’t be afraid to ask your loved one what is going on in the nursing home. If your gut instinct tells you that something is wrong, follow your gut. Hire an attorney that can help you navigate the red tape and get help.







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