Traumatic brain injuries in seniors often missed or misdiagnosed

According to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2005 there were almost 8,000 deaths and 56,000 hospitalizations among Americans age 65 and older due to traumatic brain injuries because of falls.

The report says traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) are caused by a bump or blow to the head but are often missed or misdiagnosed among older adults.

The results of TBI often mean long-term cognitive, emotional and/or functional impairments.

The CDC says in 2005, TBIs accounted for 50 percent of unintentional fall deaths and 8 percent of nonfatal fall-related hospitalizations among older adults.

While falls are not an inevitable consequence of aging, they do occur more often among older adults because risk factors for falls are usually associated with health and aging conditions.

These include mobility problems due to muscle weakness or poor balance, loss of sensation in feet, chronic health conditions, vision changes or loss, medication side effects or drug interactions and home and environmental hazards such as clutter or poor lighting.

The CDC's director of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Dr. Ileana Arias says most people think older adults may only break their hip when they fall, but research shows that traumatic brain injuries can also be a serious consequence.

Dr. Arias says such injuries can cause long-term problems and affect how someone thinks or functions and also impacts on a person's emotional well-being.

It is estimated that each year, one in three older Americans (65 and older) falls, and 30 percent of falls cause injuries requiring medical treatment. In 2005, nearly 16,000 older adults died from falls, 1.8 million older adults were treated in emergency departments, and 433,000 of these patients were hospitalized.

The CDC says falls are the leading cause of injury deaths and nonfatal injuries for those age 65 and over.

This latest research analysed 2005 data from the National Center for Health Statistics' National Vital Statistics System and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality's Nationwide Inpatient Sample.

The analysis revealed that the death rates for fall-related TBIs were higher among men than women as were the rates for fall-related TBI hospitalizations, death and hospitalization rates for fall-related TBIs generally increased with age.

Dr. Arias says aging populations means these types of injuries will increase as will demands on health care systems unless action is taken to prevent the injuries.

Arias says the CDC has developed tips and suggestions for older adults, their caregivers, health care providers, and communities to help prevent falls.

The 'Help Seniors Live Better, Longer: Prevent Brain Injury' initiative can be accessed on www.cdc.gov/BrainInjuryInSeniors, it features materials in a concise question-and-answer format to help prevent, recognize, and respond to brain injuries.

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