Concussions Can’t Always be Prevented

But Safety Measures can Help Mature Virginians (Part One of Two)

You can’t prevent every concussion. But helmets, mouthguards, and other safety gear can reduce the risk of a brain injury. For older adults, developing muscle strength can be critical.
“Helmets can prevent more severe brain injuries. And they probably do, to some degree, minimize concussions,” says Kristen Heinen, MD Assistant Professor, Neurology, UVA.
Experts agree helmets should be worn when playing football, or riding a bike or scooter, or skiing, basically when doing anything that is increasing the force at which your head would strike upon impact.
But some concussions are simply unavoidable. Dr. Heinen recalls a patient who suffered a concussion while driving past a golf course with his windows down. A golf ball flew through the driver’s window and struck him in the head. “That’s one of the best examples of a freak accident that I’ve ever encountered,” she said.
With the aging population, it’s important to take actions that help prevent falls, a leading cause of brain injury and concussions, including like minimizing slippery rugs on wooden floors, having handrails on the stairs, and wearing shoes with treads, not slippery bottoms.
Fall prevention among older adults is a significant problem says Nelson Cortes, PhD, Associate Professor, School of Kinesiology, George Mason University Sports Medicine Assessment, Research & Testing (SMART) Laboratory.
Based on national research, Dr. Cortes says, “We know that approximately 30% of older individuals will fall once a year and 50% will fall two or more times per year. These represents a healthcare cost of approximately $50 billion a year in medical costs. Falls also account for 66% of death in individuals older than 65. And we can see from all of these falls, 60% also develop a traumatic brain injury. Falls among the elderly are a real problem.

“And then when the age goes above 65, the numbers just skyrocket because we get weaker, we get less mobile, and the recovery becomes slower. Older adults also become more dependent on medicine, and the side effects may also impact overall mobility. All of these factors just compound on top of each other.” Unfortunately, this can lead to more falls and accelerate the likelihood of death.
Prevention methods to reduce concussions among older populations is discussed in part two.

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