Be proactive in lowering the risk of head injury

June is Brain Injury Awareness Month.

Older adults are at the highest risk for traumatic brain injury (TBI) of all age groups, says the Canadian Geriatrics Journal. Adults 65 and over (and youth under 21) have the highest incidence of hospitalization from brain injuries and about 70% of the estimated $20-billion yearly costs of TBI in Canada is due to older adults sustaining these injuries, according to Lakehead University. The largest number of deaths due to head injuries also occurs among adults 60 and older, reports the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

Falls are the leading cause of head injuries in older adults, accounting for more than 60% of hospital admissions for TBI in seniors, says the Canadian Medical Association Journal. In Ontario, older adults are more likely to suffer a fall-related head injury in their home than in any other location. Half of the hospitalizations and 27% of emergency department visits for fall-related head injuries happened at home in 2014-15, according to the Ontario Injury Prevention Resource Centre.

Fall prevention strategies

Fall risks at home can be reduced by identifying and removing environmental hazards, such as loose rugs; creating clear paths for movement throughout the home; and installing handrails in bathrooms and on staircases. Adequate lighting and non-glare, non-slip flooring can also help prevent falls, advises the Ontario Injury Prevention Resource Centre.

Exercise programs for seniors designed to improve balance have proven effective in preventing falls and fall-related injuries, says McMaster University.

Care after brain injury

A traumatic brain injury can affect a person’s physical, behavioural and cognitive abilities, depending on severity. Some common effects may include: difficulties in concentrating, memory, and learning new information; speaking or behaving inappropriately, sensory losses, depression, mood swings, aggression and irritability, according to the National Association of State Head Injury Administrators.

Proper assessment, treatment and rehabilitation by healthcare professionals are essential to help families (and the individual affected) understand the challenges associated with the injury, be supportive and help the person learn ways to compensate for abilities that have been changed.

You can find excellent practical and compassionate information, advice and suggestions to help support and care for an affected family member in “After Brain Injury: A Guide for Patients and their Families,” produced by Alberta Health Services.