Employee & Community Health

Concussions: Not just for kids

3/11/2019 by Dr. Kyle McKenzie

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Concussions are in the news, especially among kids and student athletes. To help prevent them, parents strap helmets on their kids as they run outside to play and ponder whether their youngsters should participate in contact sports. But what about protecting adult brains from injury? 

There's no age limit on getting concussions, whether it's from a fall on the ice, vehicle accident, tumble from a bike or bumping into a kitchen cabinet door. And as we age, we become more susceptible to issues from head injuries. It may not take much of a jolt to cause an injury that takes longer to heal. 

With a concussion, there is a violent shaking or blow to the head causing our brains to move inside our skull. Even a single, mild concussion may have a longer-lasting impact, including memory problems and possible increased risk for dementia. As with children, increased numbers of concussions come with increased risk for complications long term. 

Typical symptoms in adults include: 

  • Headaches
  • Trouble thinking or concentrating, feeling like you're in a fog
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Withdrawal from social interaction, feeling depressed

Loved ones also might notice that you're sleeping more or having trouble sleeping; experiencing mood swings, including being more irritable; or having memory issues, which can include taking more time to respond and repeating questions. 

Don't just write these symptoms off as part of the aging process or that it's "not that bad". If you're on a blood thinner, you should go to the Emergency Department immediately following a head injury. If you're having a headache that's increasing in severity, persistent vomiting, seizure activity or unusual behavior, then emergency evaluation would be needed, as well. Otherwise, if your symptoms affect day-to-day function or you're concerned, see your care team for an evaluation. 

While there's no treatment for the concussion itself, treatment can manage symptoms — such as medications to control headaches and physical or occupational therapy to relieve dizziness or improve balance. 

Steps to protect the adult brain from concussion are much like those for kids: 

  • Always wear a seat belt
  • Use a helmet for activities from riding bike to downhill skiing
  • Reduce fall risks around the home, such as slippery surfaces and trip hazards (electrical cords, clutter, throw rugs, etc.)

Stay active, have fun, but watch your head!

Dr. Kyle McKenzie is a physician in Employee and Community Health's (ECH) Division of Community Internal Medicine (CIM). He is a fellowship-trained geriatrician and is medical director at Fairview Care Center, Field Crest Care Center and Pine Haven Care Center.