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Falls causing brain injuries in elders at alarming rate

New data released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that elderly people are suffering fall-related concussions and other brain injuries at a previously unprecedented and alarming rate. The number of reported head trauma cases had spiked in recent years, and CDC researchers had originally suspected both an increase in youth sports participation and a growing understanding of concussion symptoms (and corresponding diagnosis criteria) for the uptick.

As the raw data from hospitals and emergency rooms around the country was analyzed, however, a very different pattern emerged. The higher numbers weren't due to more younger people being diagnosed with brain injuries. Instead, the new cases were overwhelmingly skewed towards older age groups. The rate of brain injuries associated with falls for people 75 and older rose 76 percent from 2007 to 2013.

Fall risks increase with age

Obviously, time marches on for us all. We may notice stiffening in our joints the morning after a workout, or that our knee has a painful twinge when bad weather rolls in. We might see a bit more gray in our hairline when we look in the mirror in the morning. We might not immediately notice more subtle signs of aging, though, and we also might not recognize them in older loved ones.

For example, balance is inordinately effected by age. This is due to impaired vision and dizziness caused by gradual changes in the systems of the inner ear, and to bone density fluctuations causing spots of skeletal weakness. In addition, our innate ability to right ourselves after tripping or "break our fall" with a well-placed arm are also compromised as we get older.

The elderly are, simply put, more prone to possible falls, and when they fall, they are more seriously injured than younger folks. Older bones are more frail, older muscles can easily be torn, and older tendons and ligaments are more prone to trauma.

How to use this data

If you care about an elderly loved one, this data should put you on notice: fall risks are real, and precautions should be taken. Once one fall injury occurs, many elderly patients end up trapped in a cycle of ongoing falls and progressively more serious injuries.

Retailers and business owners should know that elderly patrons could be seriously injured on unmarked stairs or if handrails aren't properly installed. Throw rugs could be a hazard that cause serious injuries in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. People who rely upon medical devices like canes and walkers for balance support shouldn't be allowed to walk without them and should be adequately supervised; failing to do so could be indicative of a larger pattern of abuse or neglect.

Can you think of other ways in which this data could be used to help protect our elderly from falls and fall-related injuries?

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