Elderly at Risk for Fatal Brain Injuries after Falls
By Gerri Elder
A new government study published in the June issue of the Journal of Safety Research has shown that senior citizens have more to fear than broken bones when they fall and can sustain much more serious injuries when they hit their heads.
The study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta indicates that, brain injuries account for half of the deaths of elderly people who sustained falls. The study is the first comprehensive look at the connection between deadly falls and brain injuries in older Americans, according to a report by the Daily Press.
The deaths of 16,000 elderly people in 2005 that listed unintentional falls as the underlying cause of death were examined during the CDC study. Researchers found that a bit more than half of these senior citizen deaths after falling were attributed to brain injuries. The other deaths were due to a variety of causes including heart failure, strokes, infections and existing chronic conditions made worse by a broken hip or other injuries sustained in a fall.
Previous research by the CDC indicates a troubling trend - the U.S. death rate of the elderly due to falls is increasing dramatically. Since the 1990s, the rate of elderly people who have died after suffering injuries in a fall has risen by about 55 percent. The new study by the CDC points out that brain injuries play a large role in these deaths.
One in three Americans aged 65 and older suffer a fall each year. Statistics show that 30 percent of these falls require medical treatment.
For elderly people, a fall can be much more traumatic and cause more severe injuries than for a younger person. Especially when an elderly person hits their head during a fall, the injuries can be massive because veins and arteries are easily torn. These injuries can cause bleeding in the head and on the brain which can be fatal. Medications commonly prescribed to elderly people can make the bleeding even more severe.
After a fall during which an elderly person sustains a blow to the head, the injuries may not be immediately apparent. Some people may sustain a brain injury without losing consciousness and can even be alert and talkative. For this reason, all head injuries should be considered serious and medical attention should be sought after any fall in which a blow to the head was sustained.
The CDC study also found that the rate of fall-related brain injuries resulting in death and hospitalization increased with age. About 8 percent of hospital stays for non-fatal falls of elderly people involved brain injuries.
In order to prevent falls and reduce the chance of brain injuries or death, elderly people are encouraged to exercise to increase leg strength and balance. Vision should be checked regularly so that senior citizens can avoid obstacles and prevent falls. Also, the use of medications that can have an effect on balance, thinking and coordination should be taken into account and special care taken when these types of prescription drugs are used.