How to mitigate the impacts of traumatic brain injuries in an aging population

Kristen Mohammadi
The Aspen Times

Every year, an estimated 1.5 million people in the United States are diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury (TBI). For some, they may experience a mild concussion. For others, the impacts of brain injuries can be long-term or even deadly.

For those in the age group 65 years or older, the impacts of brain injuries can be the most severe when compared to other age groups. According to the National Library of Medicine, an estimated 80,000 people in this age group visit an emergency department each year with concerns of brain injury. 

One doesn’t need to be in the NFL or participate in extreme sports to endure the harmful affects a brain injury can have on the body. A simple fall, for some, can change the rest of their lives in the a blink of an eye.

Falls are the leading cause of TBI-associated death in the United States for women over 75 years old and men over 85 years old.

“Falls are one of the most common reasons why older adults get brain injuries,” said Krista Fox, occupational therapist at Aspen Valley Hospital. “And, it’s usually falls from just a standing height.”

The National Institute of the Aging estimates that one in four people ages 65 or older will experience a fall every year.

While no one can predict a fall, there are plenty of preventative measures one can take to better protect themselves.

According to Fox, there are three main areas to focus on when preventing accidents that could lead to TBI:

1.) Biologic

This population may experience muscle weakness, changes in their vision, changes in sensation of their feet, or alterations in equilibrium. With this, it’s recommended to see a physician if you notice any changes in your balance. In addition, physical exercise is highly recommended in order to build muscle and improve joint, tendon, and ligament flexibility, according to the National Institute of the Aging.

2.) Behavioral

Inactivity in this age group is a cause for concern when thinking about how to prevent falls. When someone is inactive, they may have slower reaction times, making falls more likely when active. By cultivating an active lifestyle, one can improve their overall health and balance.

3.) Environmental

Decluttering one’s home can significantly prevent falls. In addition to maintaining an organized space, it’s highly recommended that this age group make alterations to fall-proof their home. This can include having hand rails on both sides of a stair case, getting rid of rugs, and keeping electrical chords out of walkways. These small alterations may seem like insignificant improvements, but they can help save one’s life.

For more tips on how to fall-proof your home, read The National Institute of Age’s tip guide.

What to do if you’re a caregiver of an elder

While experiencing a traumatic brain injury is a significant injury, those who may have a TBI may not even know an injury has happened. One can experience brain fogginess as a symptom of their brain injury or not remember that a fall had occurred, making it challenging to recognize the severity their accident.

According to Fox, if you’re a caregiver of someone who may be significantly impacted by TBI’s, it’s important to ask questions like: “Have you fallen in the last year?” and “Do you have concerns with your balance?”

If you’re concerned that someone you know in this age group may have fallen, she recommends to bring them to a doctor.

“We always recommend that if you have concerns about falling as an older adult, or have concerns for a family member, to see your physician get physical therapy because it is clinically shown to help people,” she said.

Activities for seniors in Aspen

In addition to keeping in mind the three areas to prevent falls, seeing a doctor if you have concerns with your balance and coordination, there’s also groups for those 65 years or older can participate in here in Aspen to improve their overall health.

Pitkin County Senior Services Center offers balance, yoga, tai chi classes and more to seniors. Aspen Recreation Center offers a fitness program designed for seniors called Silver Sneakers.

To reach Kristen Mohammadi, call 304-650-2404 or email

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