Help for Aging Survivors of Brain Injury
By Marilyn Lash
Loss of memory, difficulty recalling names, and confusion are common complaints of most aging adults. People also have changes in physical abilities as they age. For persons who have survived a traumatic brain injury and already have some impairments in their cognitive and physical abilities, concerns about aging are often magnified. Much is unknown about the long-term effects of trauma to the brain. Many survivors fear that aging will bring a further decline in their cognitive and physical abilities.
Tips for persons with a brain injury on seeking medical care as they grow older
- Get medical care. Any time you notice a change in your thinking, functioning or physical health, it is wise to seek professional help. Many medical conditions are reversible.
- Find professionals with expertise on both aging and the effects of brain injury on the aging process. This may include specialists such as neurologists who are physicians specializing in neurological disorders, physiatrists who are physicians in rehabilitation medicine, neuropsychologists who are psychologists with expertise in persons with brain injury, or gerontologists who are physicians specializing in aging.
- Share information about your brain injury. It is important to give information about the history of your brain injury to any professional who is treating you. This should include information about your overall condition since the brain injury and any recent changes you have noticed, especially with your memory and thinking. It is also helpful to bring copies of any medical records about your brain injury.
- Find rehabilitation programs or services if you have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. You may benefit from cognitive rehabilitation, emotional support and medications.
- Talk with your doctor about new medications and health supplements before taking them.
Safety tips for persons aging with brain injury
Aging brings changes in cognition or thinking as well as changes in physical abilities. A person’s strength, coordination, balance, and endurance often change. These changes with aging may pose additional challenges for the person with a brain injury whose motor skills or physical abilities have already been compromised. In addition to receiving good medical care, the following strategies can help persons with brain injuries reduce the risk of further injury as they grow older:
- Protect your head.
- Avoid action sports that can increase the odds of another brain injury.
- Wear a helmet when biking, skating, playing baseball or other sports.
- Use a seat belt in all moving vehicles.
- Watch out for activities requiring a rapid physical response or agility if they were affected by your brain injury.
- Take time to examine your choices when facing a new situation and carefully choose the best response before you react. Persons with a brain injury are often impulsive which increases the chance of accidents occurring.
- Reduce or avoid stimulating activities when you are tired. Fatigue reduces a person’s ability to think clearly and response time. This increases the risk of accidents.
- Make sure your home, work and other places you visit safe, well lit and fall-proof.
- Keep taking any prescribed medications according to your doctor’s directions, especially if you have a seizure disorder. If you have a seizure and lose your balance, fall or lose consciousness, this increases the risk of another brain injury.
These medical and safety tips can help protect you from another injury. They are a starting point for a discussion with your doctor, other professionals, and your family.
By Dr. Mary Hibbard