Brain Injury Awareness in the Elderly
It’s a given that seniors are more susceptible to injuries from falls than younger individuals. Many believe the most pressing concern is the damage caused by a broken hip or another bone injury. However, both men and women over the age of 70 are three times as likely to suffer a potential brain injury than a younger individual.
While something as mundane as tripping on the curb or missing a stair may seem harmless, these falls can lead to serious brain injuries in the elderly. Seniors make up a significant portion of all concussion patients in the U.S, and falls are one of the leading causes of these traumatic brain injuries. That is why it is so important to keep yourself, your staff, and your patients educated on the most common causes and signs of a brain injury, as well as having a plan in place to handle them as quickly as possible. A fast and appropriate response can make all the difference.
Since March is Brain Injury Awareness month, Assisted Living Education would like to review why seniors are at a higher risk of head injuries, and what you can do to prevent them.
What Increases the Risk of Brain Injury?
Even the most self-reliant seniors can be at a higher risk of sustaining a traumatic head injury. Many of your residents may be on various medications that can undermine the user’s balance, coordination, reflexes, muscle strength, or spatial reasoning. Even seemingly harmless drugs such as aspirin, Motrin or fish oil supplements can have unintended side effects such as dizziness or diminished coordination. These side effects can make the resident more likely to stumble.
Those who do suffer a fall while on blood thinners have a higher potential for damage to the brain because these medications raise the chance of blood pooling in the head. Residents who take multiple prescriptions or use over the counter medications on a daily basis are going to run a higher risk of experiencing these side effects. It’s essential that the healthcare team is aware of the possible side effects of medications that their residents are on, and keep an eye out for those who may be more vulnerable to those side effects.
Individuals who have suffered from a hip or joint injuries in the past, those with a history of nerve damage, or those with weakened bones may also be more likely to fall due to strenuous activities. It can be difficult for some individuals to remember their limits as they age and it’s not uncommon for someone to push themselves too far and fall as a result. Guide your residents through more physically challenging tasks and when in doubt encourage them to take it easy.
Poor eyesight can also be a factor. Ensure your residents have proper lighting and prevent tripping hazards. If your resident wears glasses, regular visits with the optometrist can ensure their prescription is up to date. Some individuals might be aware of their worsening eyesight but unwilling to speak up. If you recognize any sign of a struggle seeing, such as: sitting closer than usual to the TV, or difficulty with reading, etc. If the resident is able to articulate any issues they are having, it would be worth inquiring if they are having difficulties with their sight. If they are not able to articulate, gather your observations and present them to the attending physician for review.
What to Look For and Do if You Suspect a (Traumatic) Head Injury Has Occurred
The most important thing to remember is to treat any potential head injury as if it is one. Be aware of the signs such as slurred speech, loss of memory, or poor balance. Look out for any visible injuries such as bumps or cuts on the head or neck, but don’t assume that an injury isn’t present just because you can’t see it. Alert the resident’s physician whenever a head injury is suspected. Urge the patient to remain still to prevent further damage or complications and call 911. The faster you identify a head injury, the sooner the resident can receive treatment. Every second matters. It’s also important to treat every fall as if there might have been an injury. For residents who have been aware, it is appropriate to conduct an orientation assessment (e.g., what year it is, the date, etc.). If the resident was not presenting this kind of cognitive awareness prior to the incident, close behavioral monitoring, a physical exam and possibly further testing may be appropriate, depending on the suspected severity of the incident.
The best way to keep your residents safe from head injuries is to take steps to prevent them in the first place. One of the easiest ways to do this is through movement and exercise. If the residents are independent and/or ambulatory, encouraging them to take short walks and stretch is helpful. Some residents may be enlisted in a physical therapy program if they require assistance or rehabilitation to maintain or improve their physical health. A proper diet and regular exercise can help your residents improve their muscle and bone strength to diminish the likelihood of secondary injuries that can lead to brain trauma. Remember to always check with your resident’s physician before making a change to their diet or exercise routine.
Another key to prevention is to make their surroundings as safe as possible. Look out for slippery surfaces or tripping hazards such as loose cords or rugs. Move frequently used items, so they are within easy reach. Work with your residents and other staff to make sure the environment they live in does everything it can to keep them safe.
Assisted Living Education is committed to providing the most up-to-date information possible. Our passion for helping caregivers enrich the lives of their residents is what led us to become a premier source for education, resources, and certifications in the industry. Explore our website, or reach out to us via our contact page with any questions you might have on RCFE certification, our online courses, or other assisted living-related services.