Help Reduce Head Trauma in Seniors

Seniors are at risk for serious injury from head trauma

Individuals who are 65 years of age and older are at high risk for head trauma and traumatic brain injury. These injuries usually result from falling down. Head trauma in seniors is serious, because an older person takes longer to recover from brain trauma, and is more likely to die from its complications.

Signs of Head Trauma in the Elderly

Some signs of head trauma are noticeable right away. There may be a cut or bruise on the head, and a loss of consciousness.

However, there are many times when the brain injury progresses slowly and it takes days or even weeks for the signs to show up.

A few things to look for are changes in behavior, slurred speech, sudden vision changes or increased confusion. The person may just not “be themselves”. They may feel much less motivated to do things, and may suddenly sleep much more than before.

If head trauma is suspected, but the elderly person doesn’t remember whether or not s/he fell, other tell-tale signs of having fallen may be noticeable such as bruising to the arms, hips, and knees, or a laceration under the hair.

Any time there are signs and symptoms of a fall with changes in cognition and behavior, it’s important to get a medical evaluation. Even minor head trauma, such as hitting the head against a cabinet in the kitchen while putting away dishes, can be dangerous in this population.

Treating Senior Head Trauma

While treatments are available for the complications of head trauma, senior citizens often have underlying health problems that can interfere with their ability to tolerate those treatments.

For example, heart disease, lung disease or complications from diabetes may make it difficult for an older person to tolerate surgery.

If the head trauma is serious enough that the patient needs to be sedated and on a mechanical ventilator that takes over the work of breathing, it can take a long time wean off the ventilator.

This is because an older person’s lungs are not as resilient as a younger person's lungs. A smoking history makes this even more challenging. Regaining lost muscle tone and completing cognitive rehabilitation also takes much longer in the elderly.

Preventing Head Trauma in Seniors

There are certain factors that increase the likelihood of head trauma in senior citizens:


Blood thinners are important medications for many who are elderly, but they can make falls and even minor head bumps dangerous. Blood thinners work by slowing down or preventing the body from creating a blood clot, so the bleeding just continues. Brain bleeds, such as subdural hematomas, increase pressure inside the brain and can lead to death if the bleeding is not stopped.

Blood pressure, pain and anxiety medications can also contribute to the risk of falling, by making a person unsteady on their feet. Any concerns about medications causing dizziness or a loss of balance, should be discussed with the primary care provider.

Lack of Conditioning

Many falls occur due to lower body weakness and a lack of coordination. Maintaining an exercise regimen such as walking is helpful. There is a great deal of research on the benefits of Tai Chi in the elderly. Tai Chi is a form of martial arts that moves very slowly and focuses and developing core strength and balance.

Home Hazards

A safe environment can greatly reduce the risk of falls. Throw rugs should be taken away, and clutter removed. Any broken or uneven stairs should be repaired. Electrical cords can be taped down, or secured along the wall. Grab bars in the bathroom, shower and along hallways are also helpful.


Many seniors don’t get their eyes checked regularly, and it may have been years since they received new glasses. Taking an older person to get this taken care of can reduce the risk of falls, and brain injury.


Boltz, M. M., Podany, A. B., Hollenbeak, C. S., & Armen, S. B. (2015). Injuries and outcomes associated with traumatic falls in the elderly population on oral anticoagulant therapy. Injury, 461765-1771. doi:10.1016/j.injury.2015.06.013

Manor, B., Lough, M., Gagnon, M. M., Cupples, A., Wayne, P. M., & Lipsitz, L. A. (2014). Functional Benefits of Tai Chi Training in Senior Housing Facilities. Journal Of The American Geriatrics Society, 62(8), 1484-1489 6p. doi:10.1111/jgs.12946

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