Concussions, Spinal Injuries, and Brain Injuries in Nursing Homes

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Nursing homes should be places of safety and security for our loved ones. They should be facilities where the elderly can receive professional medical care and live with as much dignity as possible. While that is the case for some, it’s not for most facilities. Elderly residents can suffer from some injuries and even abuse. However, concussions, spinal injuries and brain injuries in nursing homes are also very prevalent.

The Increase in Spinal Injuries

While the incidence of spinal injury for the population as a whole has remained relatively stable for several decades, there has been a noticeable uptick in the rate of spinal injuries for elderly patients, particularly those in nursing homes. In fact, there was a 66% increase between 2010 and 2012. This rise is tied to an increase in the number of slip and fall injuries in these facilities.

Falling can result in some potential injuries, from broken leg and arm bones to shattered pelvises to damaged vertebra in the spine. One reason for an increase in the number of fall-related spinal injuries is an increase in mobility – the elderly today are more mobile than they once were, which leads to more accidents. However, there is also a connection to a lack of mobility devices in some nursing homes, including walkers and other important tools.

For elderly individuals who have sustained a spinal injury, the threat of death, as a result, is high. Preventing falls are the most important thing and is the goal toward which researchers are working. They hope to provide better rehabilitation methods for patients regaining mobility (a significant source of fall accidents), as well as helping to educate individuals about the chance of falling during even simple recreational activities, and how to protect themselves from those accidents.

Brain Injuries

Traumatic brain injuries include a wide range of types, including concussions. They are more commonly associated with younger people, particularly with athletes and those involved in extreme sports. However, there has been a noticeable increase in brain injuries and concussions in the elderly population. Like the increase in spinal injuries, this uptick is tied to more falls by elderly.

Not only does it take elderly individuals longer to recover from a concussion, but there is the possibility of even a mild hit to the head leading to TBI (traumatic brain injuries) that are more significant than a concussion. With that being said, even a concussion is a very serious situation for an elderly person. It can also be more difficult to diagnose a concussion in an elderly patient, simply because many of the symptoms are the same or very similar to dementia and related conditions.

According to a study published in JAMA Neurology and conducted by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, seniors sustaining a concussion are actually at a higher risk of developing dementia as a result. The study noted that “there is about a 26% increased chance that an older adult will get dementia if they’ve had a TBI, as opposed to an injury elsewhere on their body”. It is also important to note that patients who have sustained a concussion (TBI) also took less time to develop dementia than those with other types of injuries. TBI patients developed dementia within 3.2 years of the concussion.

It is also important to note that in all patients studied, a severe TBI put them at higher risk for developing dementia. However, in patients 65 or older, even a mild TBI ( concussion) upped their risk for dementia substantially.

How to Prevent Injuries

In both spinal injuries and concussions, as well as more serious brain injuries, the primary cause was falling. Elderly patients are not only frailer than younger ones, but they have less mobility, making falls more likely. For this reason, it is vital that nursing homes and other care facilities provide assistance for mobility, including walking aids, hand rails and more.

If you suspect that your loved one was injured in a fall at a nursing home, it is important to find help from an experienced attorney and to call your state’s elder abuse hotline to report the situation.