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How to Cope: Helping an Elderly Parent After a Traumatic Brain Injury

Traumatic brain injury, or TBI, may not be your first concern when caring for the older loved one in your life. Instead, heart disease, diabetes, and dementia are most likely what come to mind. Unfortunately, as one ages, the chances of TBI increase, so it is important to understand the complications and how to interact with an elderly parent if they fall victim to this condition.

According to the Family Caregiver Alliance (FCA), 5.3 million Americans are living with disabilities that stem from a traumatic brain injury. Adolescents and older adults, those over seventy-five years of age, are most likely to have a TBI. In addition, men are twice as likely as women to suffer from this condition.

A brain injury can be the result of many things, but the most common is a fall. In fact, the FCA notes that 40% of ALL brain injuries are the result of a fall. Together, car accidents and accidents resulting in unintentional blunt trauma account for another 30% of injuries. Finally, almost a third of all injury-related deaths in the United States are a result of TBI.

Brain Injury Effects

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) have found that individuals over the age of sixty-five have the highest rates of TBI related deaths and hospitalizations, so it’s important that as a family caregiver you understand the effects of brain injury. Elderly individuals may be showing the signs, but it is easy to mistake them for other medical issues.

According to the CDCP, it is common to witness a shortened attention span as well as memory problems in your loved one. You may also notice weakness or muscle coordination issues. With a traumatic brain injury, it is also not uncommon to notice changes in a loved one’s personality, including the inability to control their emotions and having difficulty with social skills.

Interacting with a Senior with TBI, a national organization that focuses on cognitive disability help for veterans, service members, and their families, notes that some seniors with TBI have difficulty with concentration or organizing their thoughts. They suggest that if you are in an area that is loud or busy, it is best to move to a quieter location before attempting to communicate or work on a short-term goal. They also warn that you may need to repeat what you say to your loved one, as TBI sufferers may experience short-term memory issues. Finally, they caution against “over-helping”, or helping before asking the individual if they would like assistance.

Ultimately, be sure to slow down and take the time to explain what needs to be explained. tells families to remain flexible and patient, and to give the older adult in your life time to understand what you are saying and to be sure you understand them.

Do you have a loved one with TBI? What advice would you offer to someone caring for a parent or loved one with TBI? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.