Head injuries, including concussions, are becoming highly common among senior citizens. In fact, a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that, in 2013, one in every 45 Americans over the age of 75 suffered a brain injury. That's a 76 percent increase from the last report, which evaluated data from 2007.
Researchers aren't totally sure why so many more seniors are dealing with head injuries. However, some believe that the increase has to do the with an increase in the number of seniors who are living alone.
Whether you're a senior who currently lives alone or you have an elderly loved one you want to protect from head injuries, it's important to know what you can do to prevent them.
Listed below are five steps that can help all seniors, but especially those that live alone, to avoid head injuries.
Risk Factors for Head Injuries
Even the healthiest of seniors can sustain a head injury. However, some seniors are more prone to head injuries than others. Some risk factors that indicate head injuries are more likely include:
Suffering from one or more chronic health conditions
Consumption of medications (antidepressants, sleep aids, blood pressure medication, etc.) that can affect one's balance
Joint problems or poor mobility
Having to climb the stairs frequently or perform other difficult household tasks
Difficulty driving, which increases the risk of injuring one's head in a car accident
How to Prevent Head Injuries
Whether you currently face an increased risk of experiencing head injuries or just want to be prepared, these five tips can help.
1. Exercise Regularly
Regular exercise is one of the best things seniors can do to strengthen their bones and muscles and improve their balance. All of these benefits of exercise, combined, help decrease seniors' risk of falling and sustaining a head injury.
For seniors who are new to exercise, low-impact options like Tai Chi and yoga can be good options. Weightlifting, with the help of a qualified personal trainer, is also beneficial and helps seniors maintain bone density and muscle mass.
2. Review Medications
As mentioned above, there are certain types of prescription medications that can make it harder for seniors to maintain their balance. These medications can also cause them to feel drowsy or lightheaded, both of which can increase the risk of falling and injuring one's head.
Common medications to be on the lookout for include:
Blood pressure and heart medications
In addition to potentially causing falls, these medications can also hinder seniors' cognitive abilities and make it harder for them to perform everyday tasks like driving.
3. Fall-Proof Your Home
It's also important to make adjustments to home layout and decor to prevent tripping and falling. Some simple, cost-effective changes you can make include:
Tape down throw rugs to prevent slipping
Move items on high shelves so they're easy to reach without a step stool
Use a non-slip bath step to make climbing in and out of the tub easier
Install grab bars next to the toilet and bathtub
Use brighter lighting to make potential obstacles easier to see
Wear shoes or slippers with a good grip to prevent slipping
4. Get Regular Vision Checks
Regular vision checks are essential for people of all ages. However, they're especially important for senior citizens.
Poor vision and eye conditions like glaucoma and cataracts can increase a senior's chances of not noticing a particular obstacle and tripping and falling. These conditions also hinder seniors' ability to see clearly while they drive, which puts them at risk of getting into a car accident and hitting their head.
5. Maintain Healthy Vitamin D Levels
Finally, there are a variety of nutrient deficiencies that can hinder seniors' balance and cognitive abilities. One of the most important, though, is vitamin D. Many studies show that, by maintaining adequate vitamin D levels, seniors can experience improved muscle strength and balance.
The body makes vitamin D naturally as a result of direct sun exposure. However, many seniors have a hard time getting sufficient sun exposure. In those cases, it's best to supplement with additional, high-quality vitamin D.