You Don’t Have to Fall Far to Sustain a Brain Injury
By Bridget Metzger
Director of Injury Prevention and Education, Shepherd Center
It’s a seemingly harmless decision to climb a foot ladder to hang a picture in your living room. You climb up two or three steps and suddenly lose your balance and fall, hitting your head very hard on the floor or a piece of furniture. You sustain a serious injury to your brain, and your life and the lives of your family members are forever changed. This may sound farfetched, but it is a more common occurrence than you might imagine.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates about 1.7 million traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) occur yearly in the United States. Can you guess the number one cause? You got it – falls. In fact, 35.2 percent of all TBIs are from falls, according to the CDC. Among children under 14, half of TBIs are caused by falls. In seniors over 65, falls account for 61 percent of TBIs.
People can fall from practically any height or surface. Here at Shepherd Center, we have treated patients who fell from roofs, beds, balconies, horses, deer stands, trees, stairs, showers, pickup trucks, bicycles, ladders and other objects.
The ways to prevent brain injuries from falls are as varied as the places from which a person can fall. But there are some practical things you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones from these devastating injuries.
- Use extreme caution when climbing anything. This includes ladders, step stools and stairs. You don’t have to fall far to sustain a head injury.
- Remove obstacles in the home that may cause you or someone else to fall. This includes poorly placed cords, rugs and anything that sits on the floor and may be a tripping hazard.
- Wear a helmet when riding horses, bicycles, scooters and skateboards.
- Maintain your health and physical fitness. If you believe you are at risk for falling, see your doctor for guidance and resources.
- Add handrails and non-slip mats to bathroom areas for seniors and any other person who may have trouble with balance and stability.
- Alcohol and drugs impair judgment and reflexes. Always use caution when drinking alcohol.
- Follow safety rules for all recreation activities that may place you at heights above ground level, such as hunting from a deer stand.
There are a number of resources and programs to prevent falls among seniors. Programs that promote physical fitness and balance and address the fear of falling may be offered by senior centers and other community organizations for little to no cost. The National Council on Aging offers a list of such programs at this website.
The CDC offers their STEADI (Stopping Elderly Accidents, Death and Injuries) Tool Kit for healthcare providers who see patients they believe may be at risk of falling. The free, downloadable kit offers providers and their patients information about how to prevent falls and how to assess a person’s likelihood of falling.
Safe Kids Worldwide offers information at this website for preventing falls in children.
There may always be some TBIs caused by falls, but in this age of information-sharing and technology, we have a unique opportunity to spread awareness of these devastating injuries and reduce their numbers. Knowledge that leads to better decision-making is the key to prevention. Please share this article with others and spread the word that TBIs often result from falls . They can devastate and they can be prevented.
BRIDGET METZGER is the director of Injury Prevention and Education Services at Shepherd Center. Prior to that, she worked as a case manager for spinal cord injured patients. Ms. Metzger has a Master of Science in rehabilitation counseling from Georgia State University and a Bachelor of Science in journalism from San Francisco State University. She is a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor, a Certified Case Manager, and a Licensed Professional Counselor.
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neuromuscular conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 740 inpatients, nearly 280 day program patients and more than 7,100 outpatients each year in more than 46,000 visits.