While the NFL and other intense contact sports get the most attention for their explosive collisions and subsequent brain injuries, the truth is that the majority of people who experience brain injuries are not professional athletes.
In fact, children and older adults are much more likely to experience traumatic brain injury and have worse outcomes. Older adults are also less likely to survive their injury compared to younger adults.
Now, a recent study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society may have pinpointed several risk factors that contribute to higher concussion rates in the elderly and may help develop strategies to prevent TBI whenever possible.
According to the report, the study is the first of its kind to evaluate TBI-associated risk factors in older adults.
For the study, researchers from Mount Sinai Hospital and Group Health Research Hospital in Washington studied participants from the Adult Changes in Thought (ACT) study, including 4,004 people without dementia who were 65-year-old or older. At the start of the study, none of the participants had experienced a prior traumatic brain injury.
Over the course of the study, the participants were evaluated every two years over an average span of 7.5 years. During each assessment, the participants were interviewed and asked if they had experienced a brain injury severe enough to lose consciousness, as well as other information regarding their overall health, depression symptoms, alcohol use, and whether they were physically active.
The researchers then measured the participants’ cognitive function and physical performance, as well as assessing their ability to complete daily activities such as bathing, dressing, walking around the house, getting out of a bed or a chair, feeding themselves and using a toilet.
According to the findings, those with the highest risk of experiencing a TBI also experienced the following conditions:
- Vascular health conditions (or conditions affecting the heart’s major blood vessels)
- Difficulty performing acts of daily living
- More than one chronic disease
However, the researchers were surprised to find having a sedentary lifestyle, self-reported alcohol problems, lower cognitive functioning, or markers for Alzheimer’s disease were not linked with having a TBI. The results also showed those with a TBI and vascular health problems were at greater risk for death.
Ultimately, the team hopes their research contributes to increased prevention efforts for TBI among those who are at the greatest risk, not just those who participate in popular sports.