If you’re an older employee — particularly one in a job that involves physical labor — a fall or other injury can be more serious than it might be for your co-workers who are decades younger. We all know that as we get older, a fall is more likely to result in broken bones. However, the likelihood of a traumatic brain injury (TBI) also becomes greater with age.
A TBI may not be as obvious as broken bones, lacerations or bruises immediately after a workplace accident. However, if you’re nearing or already in your senior years, it’s wise to be tested. The rate of TBIs is increasing in older people more than in any other age group. They’re often more serious — and fatal — than they are for younger people.
One reason for this is something called “brain shrinkage” that happens as we age. It doesn’t mean that we’re losing brain cells (although we might feel like we are). However, as the brain shrinks, there’s more space between the skull and the brain. The bridging veins between the two become thinner, tighter and more easily damaged.
That means an older person who suffers a TBI is more likely to develop bleeding in the brain, known as a subdural hematoma. If a person is already taking medications that thin the blood (like blood pressure medication), that can exacerbate the bleeding. President Jimmy Carter was hospitalized this autumn for treatment of a subdural hematoma after falling more than once in the past months.
Anyone who’s fallen and hit their head or been struck in the head by something at work should be tested for a TBI. However, if you’re an older worker, that’s crucial — even if you feel fine. Symptoms can develop later. The longer you delay treatment, the more difficult it will be to repair the damage. You also want to know the full extent of your injuries as soon as possible so that you can seek the workers’ compensation you’ll need as you recover.