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1 in 8 Older Americans Are Stricken With Traumatic Head Injury
  • Posted May 31, 2024

1 in 8 Older Americans Are Stricken With Traumatic Head Injury

About one in eight U.S. seniors will be treated for a traumatic brain injury, typically during a fall, a new study finds.

Medicare data shows that about 13% of seniors suffered a severe concussion during an average follow-up period of 18 years, researchers report.

Although these injuries can be treated, they increase the risk of serious conditions like dementia, Parkinson's disease, seizures, heart disease, depression and anxiety, they added.

"The number of people 65 and older with TBI is shockingly high,"said senior researcher Dr. Raquel Gardner, a neurologist with the Sheba Medical Center in Israel.

For the study, researchers tracked about 9,200 Medicare enrollees with an average age of 75.

Women, white people, the healthier and the well-off appear at higher risk of concussion, according to the data -- a finding that runs counter to prior research.

For example, about 64% of people who had a traumatic brain injury were female, even though women represented 58% of the total group studied, researchers said.

Likewise, about 84% of people in the total group were white, but whites represented 89% of concussions, results show.

About 31% of those with traumatic brain injury were in the top 25% of wealth, while 22% were in the lowest quarter, researchers said.

Seniors with concussion also were less likely to have lung disease or to struggle with activities of daily living like bathing, walking and getting out of bed. They also were less likely to have dementia.

The new study was published May 29 in the journal JAMA Network Open.

"It's possible that our findings reflect that adults who are healthier, wealthier and more active are more able or likely to engage in activities that carry risk for TBI,"said lead researcher Erica Kornblith, an assistant professor of psychiatry with the University of California, San Francisco.

"While most TBIs in older people occur from falls at ground level, if you are in a wheelchair or bed-bound, you don't have as many opportunities for traumatic injuries,"Kornblith added. "It's also possible that participants with cognitive impairment are more limited in their activity and have less opportunity to fall."

However, the researchers noted that their findings might only reflect cases in which patients were diagnosed with a concussion and received care. A 2007 study found that 42% of people didn't seek medical attention after receiving a traumatic brain injury.

"We know that older adults who experience falls, the largest segment of Americans with TBI, as well as lower-resourced adults -- including those subjected to racial and ethnic micro-aggressions in a medical setting -- are less likely to seek care,"Kornblith said in a university news release. "It's possible that our data did not capture the true burden of TBI in this population."

Physical activity is being touted as a means of preserving brain health and function as people age, Gardner said. These results show that seniors need to be careful while getting their exercise.

"Taking measures to optimize safety and mitigate falls is critical,"Gardner said. "These measures need to change over the life-course as an individual accumulates physical or cognitive disabilities, or both."

More information

The National Institutes of Health has more about traumatic brain injury.

SOURCE: University of California, San Francisco, news release, May 31, 2024

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