As we age, we’ve come to expect the increasing absent-mindedness and the onslaught of those now-why-did-I-come-into-this room moments. We laugh it off, make jokes about the unexpected gifts in being able to hide our own Easter eggs or wrap our birthday presents. But memory lapses could indicate more serious conditions. They could be symptoms of a brain injury or the onset of dementia.
Brain Injury 101
Public awareness and understanding of Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) have grown significantly in recent decades. News coverage of war veterans, professional athletes, and shaken babies who have sustained TBI’s has helped to raise awareness. But brain injuries do occur under more mundane circumstances. Lives have been changed and careers ended by slipping and falling on the ice or by standing up and smacking one’s head on an open cupboard door.
TBI’s most often result from falls, automobile crashes, blunt-force trauma, and assaults. Accidents like these happen in an instant and the impacts may be felt for a lifetime. In Colorado, falls are the most common cause of brain injury, and the 65+ group is one of the top demographics in which they occur.
TBI’s are just one category of Acquired Brain Injury (ABI), defined as any type of damage to the brain acquired after birth, which is not hereditary, congenital, or degenerative. Other causes of ABI include strokes, aneurysms, intracranial surgical procedures, infections, and anoxic or hypoxic injuries stemming from the brain being deprived of oxygen. The impacts are rated on a spectrum from mild to moderate to severe. Severe and moderate TBI’s require extensive care and rehabilitation therapies to regain the ability to speak, walk, talk, and to resume activities of daily living.
Mild Traumatic Brain Injuries (MTBI), also referred to as concussions, could occur even when the person does not lose consciousness. Symptoms of MTBI are often not visible, but may cause have far-reaching impacts on people’s ability to make a living, sustain relationships, and maintain good quality of life. Difficulties with memory, concentration, problem-solving, personality changes, stress management, and job skills are prevalent for MTBI survivors and their families.
While the prognosis for mild concussions predicts full recovery within a few weeks to a month, symptoms could last up to a year. And for an increasing population being diagnosed with Post-Concussion Syndrome, those symptoms could and do last for years.
Know What You’re Dealing With
There are numerous similarities between the impacts of Acquired Brain Injuries, Post-Concussion Syndrome, and the symptoms and warning signs of dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. And there is some overlap because survivors of moderate to severe brain injury have an increased chance of developing a neurodegenerative disorder.
The difference is Alzheimer’s and dementia are degenerative, while TBI and PCS are more often considered to be chronic conditions. The good news is great strides are being made in brain science, providing a better understanding of neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to adapt and heal itself, and preventative approaches to ensure better cognition and quality of life as we age.
Caregivers Need Care, Too
There is a shared experience between ABI and dementia. In either case, the ground very quickly shifts for all involved. Spouses, partners, and adult children thrust into the role of a caregiver must quickly adapt and educate themselves on the particular condition their loved one is living with. Very often they have to assume responsibility for finances, medical appointments, rehabilitation therapy, and more.
Amidst all of this, there is little time or emotional bandwidth left to deal with the fear of uncertain outcomes, or sadness and grief stemming from changes and loss impacting relationships. But it is important to recognize these impacts, practice self-care strategies, connect with support groups, and seek the help the caregiver needs to stay healthy and resilient over the long haul.
You Don’t Have to Go It Alone
Be diligent in your research, and connect with resources providing a proper diagnosis, guidance, and support. The Senior Living Consultants at Bridge to Better Living will help make those connections and navigate the next steps for you or your loved ones. Placement with compassion is much more than a tagline. It’s our guiding value, and it’s never too early to begin mapping your next chapter.