Among the many changes we all experience as we age is a shift in the risk of suffering a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and how such injuries occur.
A TBI can be caused by any kind of blow, jolt or penetrating injury to the head that damages the brain. Those that are not fatal can cause impaired thinking or memory, movement, sensation (e.g., vision or hearing), personality changes or depression.
Those of us who deal with personal injuries on a daily basis are well aware that falls are the leading way that people suffer a brain injury. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says falls account for more than 40 percent of all TBIs and about 30 percent of all injury deaths.
A new report from Hawaii Public Radio suggests that the ways we get hurt and suffer a TBI changes from childhood through adulthood and into our later years.
According to recently published research in the New England Journal of Medicine by members of the Pediatric Emergency Care Applied Research Network, young children typically suffer a head injury from falling while teenagers who are steadier on their feet are more likely to suffer a head injury from a sports injury, fight or car accident.
The top three causes of head injuries for children up to the age of 2 were all fall-related: falls from a height, falls down the stairs, or falls from standing, walking or running.
From age 2 to 12, the top causes of TBI were falls from a height, falls from standing, walking or running, and being accidentally hit on the head.
But by age 13, the risk shifts. For young people in their teens, a brain injury is most likely to occur as the consequence of a sports injury (i.e., concussion), an assault or a motor vehicle accident. Teens can reduce their risk of head injury by wearing a seat belt when in a car and strapping on a helmet when riding a bicycle.
Sports- and recreation-related concussions or TBIs were so prevalent from 2001 to 2009 that they accounted for 57 percent of all TBIs among children up to age 19, the CDC says.
Fortunately, as we have become more aware of concussions in sports, public policy has changed, and between 2009 and 2013, all 50 states and the District of Columbia, passed “Return to Play” laws pertaining to concussions in sports for youth and/or high school athletes.
Beyond the pediatricians’ work, the CDC reports that among adults up to age 45 the most frequent causes of TBI are motor vehicle accidents, assaults and falls.
Often when we think of TBI among adults, we think of members of our armed forces. A Military.com report about TBI calls the injury the “signature wound of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars” and says it is commonly caused by “by explosive devices, falls and vehicle or motorcycle accidents.”
But as we get older, the cause of TBIs shifts again and the risk increases. Falls are the leading cause of TBI-related hospitalizations among adults 45 years and older, according to the CDC, and the leading cause of death for persons 65 years or older.
People aged 65 and older have the highest rates of TBI-related hospitalizations and fatal accidents. More than two-thirds (81 percent) of TBIs in adults aged 65 and older are caused by falls.
Caregivers of older adults can help protect their loved ones by learning to recognize signs of traumatic brain injury after a fall and taking the proper steps.
Here are five symptoms of traumatic brain injury:
Headache that won’t go away and gets worse
Nausea or vomiting
Dilation of one or both pupils
Slowness in thinking, slurred speech or reading
Increased confusion or agitation
Older adults who take blood thinners should see a doctor immediately if they suffer a fall or bump on the head.
Visit our Brain Injury Resource Center for more information about living with brain injury.