Life After Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI): Support for Older Adults

As we age, we become more susceptible to falls. Falls put older people at higher risk for traumatic brain injury (TBI), a condition that affects how the brain works. TBI can be caused by a fall or other accident that causes a bump, blow, or jolt to the head, such as a car accident, or from a penetrating injury like a gunshot wound.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, older adults are more likely to be hospitalized and die from a TBI compared to all other age groups. Still, TBIs may be missed or misdiagnosed in older adults because the symptoms often overlap with other medical conditions that are common among older adults, such as dementia.

People living with TBI need the support of family and friends, but they can also benefit from the advocacy and care management expertise of a professional like an Aging Life Care™ Manager.

Effects of traumatic brain injury

Someone who has had a TBI can “look the same,” but their behavior and their abilities can change considerably. Here are some of the possible effects of TBI, and how an Aging Life Care Manager can help the patient and their family adapt:

  • Behavioral changes, such as poor judgment or decision making, can occur with TBI. If the affected person suddenly exhibits poor financial decision making, for example, the Care Manager can suggest safety measures that can protect the client and their finances. The Care Manager can also help educate the client’s friends and family about TBI and, in some cases, teach the client how to explain their injury to others.
  • Problems with walking, speech, and performing the activities of daily living, such as dressing, grooming, and bathing. Care Managers can arrange for professional caregivers to provide daily assistance, and link clients with the services of physical, occupational and speech therapists.
  • Disinhibition. Someone with a TBI may say “inappropriate” things or act in an overtly sexual manner. This type of disinhibition can negatively affect existing relationships, impair the person’s ability to meet and engage with new friends, and make it hard to keep professional caregivers involved.
  • Impulsivity. The person with TBI may need to be monitored so they don’t become separated from loved ones in public places. A Care Manager can arrange for a professional caregiver to provide supervision, to drive the client when needed, and to help prevent exploitation or abuse from others.
  • Loss of independence. If an older adult with TBI is no longer safe to drive, a Care Manager can help the client learn to use public transportation or offer other transportation options for people with disabilities. A loss of independence can lead to depression and anxiety, so it is important for the Care Manager and family to watch for symptoms and connect the client with mental health services as needed.
  • Need for specialized healthcare. A Care Manager can connect the patient with professionals who specialize in caring for people with TBI, including neurologists and physical medicine and rehabilitation physicians.
  • Risk of developing dementia. As the Alzheimer’s Association notes, there is research linking brain injury with dementia. A Care Manager can help family/caregivers and the client watch for signs of dementia, and facilitate diagnostic evaluation with a neurologist or neuropsychologist as appropriate.

Help for family and friends

It can be very stressful to see your loved one’s behavior or personality change so suddenly. You may even experience feelings of confusion, grief, and anger over the loss of the person you knew. Other people – extended family, friends, and colleagues – often don’t understand that a person can look “normal,” yet have significant cognitive dysfunction.

At Windward Life Care, we understand the complex new realities that TBIs create for older adults and the people in their lives. We can provide support and education for this extended circle, and connect the family with local and national resources related to TBI.