Each year 1.4 million Americans experience a traumatic brain injury (TBI), and nearly 36 percent of those people die from this injury. According to the Brain Injury Association of America, falling is the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries, responsible for 28 percent of all such injuries.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 5.3 million Americans, or about 2 percent of the American population, live with a permanent disability associated with traumatic brain injury. Three quarters of those living with traumatic brain injury suffer from mild traumatic brain injury. Symptoms can appear briefly or can be persistent and disabling.
The accidental nature of the leading cause of brain injury highlights the importance of prevention in reducing the incidence of traumatic brain injury.
Elderly at Highest Risk for Falls
The elderly are at highest risk for injury, as they experience both the highest rate of death and the highest rate of traumatic brain injury from falls. The causes may vary immensely. An older man may fall because of the sidewalk is crumbling or because his medications make him dizzy. An elderly woman may fall because she loses her balance while on a ladder or steps on a slick, wet floor.
Because of the range of the incidents that can cause a person to fall, there are many different steps that elderly people can take to prevent these falls.
Among other things, older people may seek to:
- Avoid prescriptions that cause drowsiness or dizziness
- Store items at arm’s reach rather than in high cabinets
- Use lamps rather than overhead lighting
- Wear shoes with non-slip soles
- Install stair treads and railings
- Repair uneven flooring and secure or remove loose rugs
- Ensure adequate lighting outside and repair broken sidewalks
- Install toilet and bathtub railings
- Use a walker, cane, or available handrails
Although these actions cannot prevent all accidents, they can help to minimize the likelihood of a serious injury caused by slipping and falling.
Fall-Related Traumatic Brain Injury in Children
Children also suffer a disproportionate number of traumatic brain injury due to falling. As with adults, children’s brain injuries develop as the result of a wide range of accidents. Many accidents causing childhood brain damage arise out of physical activities such as biking, rollerblading, skateboarding or snowmobiling. In all of these situations, wearing a helmet can significantly reduce the risk of traumatic brain injury. According to one study, wearing a bicycle helmet can reduce the risk of traumatic brain injury due to bicycle related falls and accidents by 88 percent.
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, falls are also responsible for the majority of playground injuries. Often children suffer head injuries from contact with the surface below the play equipment. To reduce the likelihood of these injuries, parents can ensure that their children only play in areas with adequate mulch or padding.
Negligence and Fall-Related Traumatic Brain Injury
The full effects of a traumatic brain injury are not always immediately apparent at the time of the injury. These injuries can have a wide range of consequences. In addition to changing a person’s abilities to think critically, use language effectively and process emotions, an early traumatic brain injury can make a person more susceptible to long-term brain disorders.
Because the consequences of a traumatic brain injury can be severe and only may be recognized over time, the ultimate costs of the injury may not be immediately apparent. Even with health insurance, the costs of ongoing treatment for traumatic brain injury can be substantial. Lost opportunity costs, such as inability to work for a living, can be tremendous in some TBI cases. If a traumatic brain injury is caused by the negligence of someone other than the injured person, it may be valuable to consult an attorney. A consultation will help determine whether a negligence claim is appropriate in the particular circumstances.
While some TBI cases may warrant negligence claims, the best TBI medicine is always prevention. Being alert to trip and fall hazards in the environment and avoiding them whenever possible is the primary defense to negligence-caused TBI injuries.