Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) are one of the top causes of death and serious disabilities in the United States. On an annual basis, an estimated 1.5 million people in this country suffer a traumatic brain injury, and of these approximately 50,000 result in death, and 80,000 or more result in a serious disability. The demographic group with the greatest risk of TBI is young adults, however a second group with significantly elevated risk are the elderly. In the younger group, lifestyle choices such as sports and riskier recreational activities — along with motor vehicle collisions — are prime causes of TBIs, while in the elderly there is an increase due to slip-and-fall or trip-and-fall incidents. Of those TBIs that result in death, fully half are in people over age 65, even though this age group only accounts for about 10% of the overall population. And with census estimates projecting the over 65 age group to grow from 35 million people in 2000 to more than 86 million by 2050 — including some 20 million people age 85 or older — the rate of these “geriatic TBIs” is also expect to increase substantially.
A medical study in 2002 also looked at the injury severity and recovery rates from TBI correlated with age. This study determined those patients who suffered TBIs and were between about 65 and 74 had an elevated rate of mortality from TBIs that were otherwise survivable for younger patients, and that those patients over 75 had a greatly elevated rate of mortality. Another study found that in the very elderly (over age 80), of 28 patients who suffered a subdural hematoma only 3 who received surgical intervention returned to their prior level of function, and when the hematoma was present in combination with a substantially reduced level of consciousness, none survived. Even for those older persons who survived a TBI, only about one out of five could be expected to have a favorable outcome. Studies at a microscopic level found that brain tissues in older injury victims simply do not have the same recuperative abilities as those in younger people, so that the rates and quality of recovery decreases with age.
There are certainly common sense precautions that can be taken by the elderly and by those who care for them — such as nursing homes, assisted living homes, and in-home care providers — to reduce the likelihood of slip-and-fall and trip-and-fall injuries, including improved lighting, nonslip mats and grab bars in bath and shower areas, slippers and shoes with non-slip soles, and clear walking areas.