Traumatic brain injuries, or TBIs, are caused by a bump or blow to the head; however, they may be missed or misdiagnosed among older adults. TBI often results in long-term cognitive, emotional, and/or functional impairments. In 2005, TBIs accounted for 50 percent of unintentional fall deaths and eight percent of nonfatal fall-related hospitalizations among older adults.
Falls are not an inevitable consequence of aging, but they do occur more often among older adults because risk factors for falls are usually associated with health and aging conditions. Some of these conditions 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.
“Most people think older adults may only break their hip when they fall, but our research shows that traumatic brain injuries can also be a serious consequence,” said Dr. Ileana Arias, director of CDC′s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. “These injuries can cause long-term problems and affect how someone thinks or functions. They can also impact a person’s emotional well-being.”
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. Falls are the leading cause of injury deaths and nonfatal injuries for those 65 and over.
Data from the National Center for Health Statistics’ National Vital Statistics System and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s Nationwide Inpatient Sample show:
- Death rates for fall-related TBIs were higher among men than women (26.9 per 100,000 and 17.8 per 100,000, respectively).
- Rates for fall-related TBI hospitalizations were similar among men and women (146.3 per 100,000 and 158.3 per 100,000, respectively).
- Death and hospitalization rates for fall-related TBIs generally increased with age.
- The majority of men and women hospitalized with a fall-related TBI spent two to six days in the hospital (54.9 percent of men; 61.5 percent of women).
- The median total charges for these hospitalizations were $19,191 for men and $16,006 for women.
Arias also points out that as more baby boomers reach retirement age, these types of injuries will increase demands on the health care system unless action is taken to prevent the injuries. “CDC has developed tips and suggestions for older adults, their caregivers, health care providers, and communities to help prevent falls,” Arias said.
CDC has also created resources for practitioners and community-based organizations. “Preventing Falls: What Works. A CDC Compendium of Effective Community-based Interventions from Around the World” and “Preventing Falls: How to Develop Community Based Fall Prevention Programs for Older Adults”