Concussions can be serious in older adults

Most people know about concussions in athletes, active children and young adults. But concussions aren’t limited by age or physical activity. Increasingly, older adults are being diagnosed with concussions and other brain injuries — typically due to falls.

Often, those head injuries are overlooked in the elderly. The medical community is only beginning to recognize the frequency of concussions in older adults.

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Need for Concussion Treatment

Getting the right treatment is key to recovery and preventing further injury and decline in function. Too often, important concussion symptoms are missed because they are incorrectly considered part of other concerns, including dementia, depression, or “normal” aging. Concussion symptoms in older adults can include:

  • Dizziness
  • Balance issues
  • Memory problems
  • Anxiety

Without proper care, those concussion symptoms may cause older adults — even those who with active, vibrant lifestyles — to “hide away,” which can lead to isolation and a sharp decrease in social and physical activity. Lack of concussion treatment can cause quality of life to decline.

Return to Normalcy After Concussion Injury

The goal of concussion treatment for an older adult is similar to that of a young athlete — to return the patient to the activity level they had prior to their injury.

Elderly patients receive the same level of high quality, skilled and multidimensional care as elite athletes in the Sports Concussion Program. Treatment plans are tailored to each person’s unique needs and concussion symptoms.

For example, vestibular therapy helps with balance issues, motion sensitivity, dizziness, and difficulty reading, while cognitive rehabilitation addresses memory and concentration problems. Doctors often partner with the department of physical medicine and rehabilitation when medications are needed to address symptoms or manage an injury. Likewise, physical therapies are tailored to help older adults rebuild their physical confidence, fitness, and stamina.

Concussion Symptoms in the Elderly

Concussion symptoms are not always obvious. Some older adults might experience dizziness when they go to the grocery store or shopping mall where it’s active and noisy. Others may feel foggy, or extremely tired and run down.

Common symptoms in the elderly include:

• Headache.
• Dizziness.
• Nausea.
• Balance problems.
• Fogginess, or difficulty concentrating.
• Memory problems.
• Sensitivity to light or noise.
• Mood swings.
• Anxiety.
• Depression.
• Sleep problems.

Older adults experiencing such symptoms should talk to their primary care doctor about a possible concussion.

Editor's Note: This video was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

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