We have all faltered while walking or taken a misstep, but when it leads to a fall, the consequences can be serious. Fractured bones, abrasions, and sprains are common results, but the most serious complication is a traumatic brain injury (TBI). TBI is characterized by ruptured blood vessels, brain swelling, bruising, and even nerve fiber damage. The result can be anything from memory loss and cognitive impairment to coma.
Who Is Mostly Likely To Get A TBI From A Fall
When looking at all age groups, falls are the second most common cause of TBI and TBI-related deaths. A TBI is an injury caused by a blow or jolt to the head that results in disrupted brain and neurological function. Older adults, especially those living alone, are at the greatest risk of a TBI caused by a serious fall. Even minor falls can result in damage that could be anywhere from mild or moderate to profoundly severe.
Although fall-related TBI’s are mostly seen in the elderly population, younger people have presented with a fall induced TBI. Car accidents, risky behavior, and violence are all contributing factors to TBI in a younger subset of patients.
Treating A TBI Caused By Falls
Tens of thousands of fall-related TBI’s are seen in U.S. hospitals each year and as the national population ages, that number will increase. TBI injuries can manifest with something as mild as a headache to severe brain swelling that puts deadly pressure on your brain tissue. Swelling induced pressure must be alleviated by draining excess cerebrospinal fluid. Torn nerve fibers can cause serious cognitive impairment and delays.
Although computer tomography (CT) scans are the gold standard for TBI diagnosis, imaging techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can reveal a detailed image of an injury that a CT scan might not reveal. Microscopic hemorrhages as well as never damage can be seen on an MRI scan and can aid doctors in determining future prognosis and your chances of recovery.
There is a constellation of reasons as to why you could be susceptible to a serious fall. These may be generalized or focused muscle weakness, reduced joint mobility and extension capability, poor vision and spatial awareness, and cognitive deficits or impairments. If you have underlying medical conditions such as prior cerebral hemorrhage (stroke) or gait and balance issues, you may be extremely susceptible to fall.
If you suffer from neurological conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, you are at enormous risk of a fall induced TBI. Sundowners syndrome is a phenomenon seen in patients with dementia-related decline. Seen often in the later afternoon or early evenings, patients can exhibit symptoms such as agitation and hallucination which can lead to sudden unexpected movement. This can easily cause you to stumble and subsequently fall which can result in brain injury.
Your medications can cause side effects such as dizziness or confusion that could cause a fall induced TBI. You should periodically medications with your health care provider to identify side effects and possible drug interactions as these are a vital component of a fall prevention process.
Along with medication monitoring, there are several ways you can prevent fall induced TBI’s and even falls, in general. Exercises that encourage and strengthen a steady stance or your gait are very useful. Balance skills and stepping strategies are also vital components of your fall prevention regime. In-home exercise and therapy programs conducted by a trained professional can go a long way in reducing your chances of a devastating fall.
Common Causes of Falls
Your physical environment must be free of any obstacles and dangers that can cause an in-home fall. Good lighting, clutter-free pathways, avoidance of rugs and carpets, appropriate footwear, and attention to pet location is crucial. Pets are well known to be positive companions for the elderly, but care must be exercised to ensure your friendly dog or cat does not become an unfortunate and dangerous obstacle.
Continence issues and restroom proximity should also be considered as potential contributors to a serious fall. Vision aids such as glasses should be clean and of proper prescription strength. Hallways should be a well-lit obstacle free environment. Lastly, you should avoid stairs at all costs if you are at increased risk for falls. Stair falls can have multiple layers of devastating results and result in serious traumatic brain injury.
Exercise and prevention programs must be both movement and chair-based. Comfort zones can be identified for you to enjoy worry-free walking. Practicing mobility helps you gain confidence that falls can be avoided. Exercises that involve you rising from or settling into a chair are important as well.
Many communities offer home-based programs for people who are susceptible to accidental falls. In-home therapists and nurses are excellent sources of assistance in these matters. Caretakers in your home can also turn to online resources for preventing falls that can result in injuries such as TBI. Strength training, mobility exercises, environmental awareness, and careful monitoring of dementia patients are all viable steps in a sound fall prevention program and strategy. With care and diligence, you or a caretaker can prevent traumatic brain injuries caused by falls.