Falls and Traumatic Brain Injury: The Elderly at Risk

April 8, 2003

Although your parents and grandparents may be physically fit, many elderly people suffer severe injuries when they fall. Statistics also show that when older people fall, they are more likely to be hospitalized for traumatic brain injuries.

The Centers for Disease Control published their findings regarding falls and traumatic brain injury in the April 4, 2003, issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. These statistics included 29,761 traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) that required people to be hospitalized between 1996 and 1999 in California. Of these cases, 1,752 people died. Most (71%) of the people who died were over 65 years old.

Hospitalizations for nonfatal fall-related TBIs

Notice: 1) The rate at which people were hospitalized for fall-related TBIs increases with age.
2) Men were hospitalized more frequently than women.

Why do older people have to go to the hospital more often than younger people? Some elderly people suffer from diseases such as Parkinson's disease and osteoarthritis that make them more likely to fall. Many older people take medications that may make them dizzy or drowsy and some may have impaired balance and weaker muscles. These factors may all contribute to more frequent and serious falls.

TBIs are not the only problem the elderly face when they fall. Broken bones, especially hips, are a frequent consequence of falls. The fear of falling may make the elderly less active. This may cause them to exercise less and cause further weakness.

Dr. Mary E. Tinetti, a physician in the Department of Internal Medicine at Yale University School of Medicine, suggests several ways to prevent falls in elderly people:

  1. Use balance and gait training
  2. Use muscle-strengthening exercises
  3. Gradually stop using medicines that cause drowsiness
  4. Make the home safer by removing hazards such as rugs and using nonslip bathmats and stair rails.


  1. Centers for Disease Control, Public health and aging: nonfatal fall-related traumatic brain injury among older adults --- California, 1996--1999, MMWR, April 4, 2003, 52:276-278.
  2. Tinetti, M.E. Preventing falls in elderly persons, New England Journal of Medicine, 348:42-49, 2003.

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