Traumatic Brain Injuries in Older Adults: Risks, Consequences, and Prevention

A close up of the hand of an older woman holding on the a grab bar in her bathroom for prevent falling

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a leading cause of death and disability, both in the United States and worldwide.

Each year, an estimated 1.5 million Americans sustain a TBI, with roughly 230,000 people hospitalized as a result of these injuries (according to the CDC).

The CDC also found that people age 75 years old and older are at the greatest risk for TBI – this age group accounts for 32% of all TBI-related hospitalizations and 28% of all TBI-related deaths.

Traumatic brain injuries can have significant physical, emotional, and psychosocial challenges, both in the long and short terms.

If an individual suffers a TBI, early intervention and management are the most effective means of reducing disability or death.

Traumatic brain injuries are preventable – get fast facts and safety measures to reduce the risk of TBI among older adults below.

Fast facts about traumatic brain injuries

  • Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of TBI-related deaths for children and young adults ages 5-24 years and the second-leading cause of TBI-related injuries for older adults.
  • Falls are the overall leading cause of TBI in the United States, accounting for approximately 40% of all TBI-related hospitalizations and deaths.
  • Assaults account for approximately 10% of all traumatic brain injuries.
  • While all people are at risk, males are 1.5 times more likely to sustain a TBI than females and three times more likely to die as the result of a TBI.
  • Each year, approximately 55,000 older adults are hospitalized from a TBI, while roughly 80,000 visit the emergency department.

What are the common consequences of a traumatic brain injury?

Common consequences of a TBI include:

  • Cognitive impairments: Difficulty concentrating, becoming confused/forgetful, and having difficulty making decisions
  • Language problems: Word-finding difficulties, getting easily frustrated/angry due to language struggles, and trouble with social cues
  • Sensory impairment: Loss of sense of smell or taste, vision disturbances, spatial disorientation, and light sensitivity

How can older adults prevent traumatic brain injuries?

As mentioned above, traumatic brain injuries are preventable. By taking the following steps, you can help reduce the risk of TBI:

  • Stay active: Practice balance exercises and strength training to help you stay steady on your feet.
  • Adaptive equipment: Decrease your risk of falling by installing grab bars, handrails, raised toilet seats, and other preventive equipment in your home. Use a cane to get around if you’re unsteady on your feet.
  • Wear proper shoes: Trip-related falls can be reduced by using the right footwear – ensure you have properly fitted shoes with sturdy, non-skid soles.
  • Remove hazards: Make your home environment as safe as possible by removing coffee tables, loose rugs, cords, and unnecessary furniture from high-traffic areas.
  • Light it up: Ensure that your home is well lit, especially high-traffic areas. If you’re frequently up at night, consider installing motion-activated nightlights for added visibility.
  • Always wear a seatbelt: Whether driving or as a passenger, wear your seatbelt every time.
  • Stay hydrated: Proper hydration will help minimize dizziness and drops in blood pressure while standing, which in turn help lower the risk of falling.

In addition, consider having a conversation with your health care provider if you feel you’re at particular risk for falls.

This post was written by the Trauma Program Injury Prevention Team. Learn more about Injury Prevention at South Shore Health.