Traumatic Brain Injury 101: What Senior Caregivers Should Know

According to the Brain Injury Association of America, a yearly total of 1.7 million children and adults in America sustain a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Considering the fact that seniors face an ever-increasing risk of suffering a TBI, it’s important for family members and close friends to understand the basics of this particularly dangerous injury.

What is a traumatic brain injury?
TBI is defined as “a blow or jolt to the head or a penetrating head injury that disrupts the function of the brain.” However, not all TBIs are caused by blows or jolts to the head. As with many chronic disorders, TBIs vary in severity on several different levels. For that reason, each individual brain injury is evaluated and staged by qualified medical experts.

Common Causes
Most TBIs are the results of motor vehicle accidents, acts of violence, falls, recreational injuries or blows to the head.  These injuries can also occur without visible physical evidence of injury or trauma. Examples include, whiplash, and shaken babies.

Classifying the Severity of TBIs
Though they’re not always visible and can seemingly appear minor, brain injuries are actually extremely complex. After sustaining a TBI, seniors should immediately seek professional medical help. After a thorough physical exam, experts will evaluate the specific types of damage left behind.

TBIs can result in short or long-term problems for independently functioning seniors. For example, mild TBIs normally present with brief changes in mental status or consciousness, while severe TBIs usually cause long periods of unconsciousness or amnesia.

Recovering from a TBI
These unique brain injuries can cause physical, cognitive, social and vocational changes among older adults. The changes can affect individuals for short periods of time, or alter a senior’s life permanently. In fact, many seniors find that true – and effective – recovery is a lifelong process of vigilance and compromise. In many cases, a senior’s family members and close friends suffer along with their loved one. The entire process can feel overwhelming for everyone involved.

Lasting Effects
Seniors suffering from TBIs often complain of impairments or difficulties with memory, mood and concentration. Other significant deficits are seen in organization, reasoning, learning, cognitive and other various functions. However, TBIs can also result in an increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and other brain disorders directly linked to aging in place.

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