Seniors at More Serious Head Trauma Risk

The unexpected and tragic death of actor and comedian Bob Saget after performing last month brings home the very real risk that a fall can lead to serious head trauma, especially for older adults who live alone.  A closed head injury can not only cause symptoms like headache, sleepiness, and nausea, but a traumatic brain injury can affect decision-making abilities – a main reason to avoid being alone after suffering a blow to the head.

Saget was 65, and although it appears that medications were not involved in this case, drugs like blood thinners can worsen a brain bleed, causing pressure to build in areas that can affect breathing and other vital functions.   According to a recent New York Times report, nearly half of head trauma-related hospitalizations result from falls.  

It is uncommon for a fall like Saget’s to result in death, but it is very important for anyone who experiences a head trauma to make sure someone is with them for the next 24 hours.  Medical interventions to relieve pressure on the brain can save lives, and prevent long-term damage.  Older adults who live alone and experience a significant head trauma should have someone stay with them overnight to monitor symptoms and wake them periodically.  

For people on blood thinners especially, lingering symptoms of confusion or headache after a blow to the head should be checked out by a doctor.  Small ruptures in the tiny veins surrounding the brain after head trauma can develop quickly or slowly over several weeks and are more common in older adults. 

Falls are a leading cause of hospitalization among older adults but symptoms of a head injury such as confusion can be more difficult to detect in people living with dementia.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of five falls among older people results in a serious injury such as broken bones or a head injury.  And although the risk for falling once doubles your chances of falling again, less than half of seniors tell their doctor about a fall.  Fear of falling can lead to greater inactivity among older adults and cause weakness that increases the risk of falling more. 

In addition to having your medications reviewed at least once a year by your doctor, older adults can help prevent falls by participating in strength and balance exercises, having their eyes checked annually, and making their home safer by removing clutter and throw rugs, installing grab bars and non-slip bath mats, and improving lighting inside and outside the home.