Seniors at Serious Risk for Traumatic Brain Injury

Athletes are not the only members of today’s society who run the risk of sustaining a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Seniors can succumb to them as well, and the repercussions can be severe.

Seniors living in long-term care facilities tend to run a higher risk of falling and hitting their heads than those in other living situations. According to a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, when seniors fall, they almost always hit their heads — even if they throw out their arms to break the fall. The video study was conducted at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, but the results cross borders; the risk is just as great in U.S. elder care facilities.

According to the study’s findings, over 60 percent of hospital admissions for TBIs are for seniors over the age of 65. The incidence rate escalates gradually among more elderly seniors, and then increases more sharply once seniors pass 80 years of age.

Researchers set up cameras in public areas of nursing homes, such as lounges, TV rooms and hallways to take 39-month, in-depth look at falls. They sought to observe the physical mechanics of a senior’s fall and the body parts that took the main brunt of the impact with the ground. Over 133 residents were recorded during their daily lives in the home.

227 falls were ultimately analyzed. In 37 percent of those falls, seniors hit their heads (most frequently on the ground). Although no concussions were noted on any resident’s file in this study, the risk was still treated with caution; concussions can mimic traumatic brain injuries. Surprisingly, most seniors who threw out their arms were not able to minimize the impact in a significant way. Their arm muscles were too weak to offer any kind of mitigating support.

Overall, home residents hit their heads on the floor in 64 percent of the videos examined. 16 percent made contact with furniture and 13 percent hit a wall. 33 percent of those who hit their heads on any of the above sustained a full range of injuries, from cuts and bruises to fractures.

With enough study of mobility biomechanics, homes hope to change the way seniors navigate their environments. Analysis might help medical professionals design room layouts that improve mobility or exercise programs focused on stability and balance.
Now that the results of such studies have been published, will it be considered negligence if nursing homes and long-term care facilities do not improve environment safety? For example, most homes currently have hard surface flooring, such as linoleum or tile, to facilitate cleaning. Should they be expected to use compliant flooring that cushions a fall and helps avert head injuries instead? Falls account for approximately 95 percent of serious hip fractures and other debilitating, potentially life-shortening injuries. Any step towards safety and protection is a positive one.

It’s food for thought, but on first consideration, it does seem that nursing homes may face personal injury lawsuits if they do not provide a safe environment when they know of, or should know of, suggested improvements.

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