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Symptoms of a Concussion in Older Adults: What to Do

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symptoms of concussion in seniors

Navigating the challenges of aging can be complex, and among those challenges is the increased susceptibility to concussions. 

In my years as an Occupational Therapist working with older adults, I saw many times when a minor incident lead to a concussion. Unlike the common perception that concussions are primarily sports-related, they can affect anyone, especially the elderly. 

The symptoms and implications for older individuals can differ significantly.

Interested in understanding the nuances and best practices for care?

Let’s delve into this critical topic to ensure the well-being of our senior community.

What are the general symptoms of a concussion in seniors?

Concussions in older adults can result from minor incidents and present unique symptoms, including headaches, dizziness, and cognitive disturbances. Early detection of these signs is crucial. If an elderly individual shows such symptoms after a potential head injury, immediate consultation with a healthcare professional is advised to determine the best course of action.

Let’s explore this topic further.

Understanding Concussions

Concussions, often referred to as mild traumatic brain injuries, occur when a blow or jolt to the head disrupts normal brain function. For older adults, even a minor fall can lead to a concussion, making them a vulnerable age group.

Concussion is the most common form of traumatic brain injury, and, while attention often focuses more on effects in young athletes, older adults are at higher risk for severe outcomes following one, neurologists and health experts said.

New York Times

Causes and Risk Factors

Older adults might not be playing contact sports as often as young adults, but they face other risks. Falls, motor vehicle accidents, and even minor bumps can lead to head injuries in this age group. 

Factors like low blood pressure, vision problems, and certain medications can increase the risk of falls and subsequent concussions. 

Moreover, as blood vessels become more fragile with age, there’s a greater risk of subdural hematoma, a condition where blood collects between the brain and its outermost covering.

4 Types of Symptoms of a Concussion in Older Adults

Recognizing concussion symptoms in older adults can be a bit tricky. Their reactions might differ from those of younger people, and some symptoms might be mistakenly attributed to age-related changes.

1. Physical Symptoms

The physical symptoms of a concussion that seniors often display include:

  • headache
  • dizziness
  • nausea
  • trouble walking
  • vision problems
  • vomiting

Some might even experience blurred vision or become sensitive to light and noise. 

These symptoms can be similar to those experienced by young children and young adults after a concussion, but they might linger longer in the older population.

2. Cognitive Symptoms

The cognitive symptoms of a concussion often include:

  • memory loss
  • foggy thinking
  • trouble remembering new information

Some older people might feel slowed down, have trouble concentrating, or become easily confused. It’s essential to differentiate these symptoms from normal age-related memory problems.

3. Emotional Symptoms

Most people don’t realize that there are emotional symptoms associated with a concussion which can include:

  • irritability
  • nervousness or anxiety
  • sadness

These emotional shifts can be distressing for both the concussed person and their loved ones.

4. Sleep Disturbances

Changes in sleep patterns, like sleeping more than usual or having trouble falling asleep, can also indicate a concussion. It’s a good idea to monitor any shifts in sleep after a suspected concussion.

Why Older Adults Experience Different Symptoms

The brain undergoes various chemical changes after a concussion. For older adults, these changes, combined with age-related brain cell decline and potential pre-existing medical conditions, can amplify concussion symptoms.

Age-related Changes

The brain naturally shrinks with age, creating more space between the brain and the skull. This means there’s more room for the brain to move and get injured during a jolt or blow.

Medications and Interactions

Older adults often take medications, like blood thinners, that can exacerbate the effects of a head injury. It’s crucial to inform healthcare providers about all medications to ensure the best care.

Immediate Steps to Take After Suspecting a Concussion

If you suspect an older adult has suffered a concussion, it’s vital to seek immediate medical attention. Even if the injury seems mild, complications can arise, especially in elderly patients.

Seek Medical Attention

A healthcare provider or emergency room can conduct a CT scan or MRI scan to assess the injury. In rare cases, more specialized tests like neuropsychological tests or a cerebrospinal fluid test might be needed.

Rest and Recovery

Plenty of rest is essential after a concussion. It allows the brain to heal and reduces the risk of post-concussion syndrome, a condition where symptoms persist for weeks or even months.

Avoid Certain Activities

It’s best to avoid physical exertion, driving, and other activities that might risk another injury or strain the brain during the recovery process.

Tips for Caregivers and Family Members

Supporting an older adult after a concussion can be challenging. Being informed and prepared is the next step.

Monitoring and Support

Keep an eye out for worsening symptoms or new issues. Ensure the environment is safe to prevent further injuries and offer emotional support throughout the recovery.


Open communication is key. Discuss any concerns with the healthcare provider and ensure the older adult understands their treatment plan and recovery expectations.

Recovery from a Concussion in Older Adults

Recovering from a concussion, especially for older adults, isn’t always a walk in the park. But with the right approach, it can be managed effectively. Let’s break it down.

Immediate Steps Post-Injury

After a suspected concussion, it’s crucial to take things slow. Rest is your best friend at this stage. Avoid any strenuous activities and give your brain the downtime it needs. And, of course, seeking medical advice promptly can make all the difference.

Monitor Symptoms

Keep an eye out for lingering or worsening symptoms. Headaches, dizziness, or even slight changes in behavior can be telltale signs. If something feels off, don’t hesitate to reach out to a healthcare professional.

…family members should maintain more frequent contact and observation for several weeks after an individual strikes their head, because some serious consequences can occur weeks afterward.

Brain Injury Association of Virginia

Gradual Return to Activities

It’s tempting to jump back into daily routines, but patience is key. Start with light activities, and as you feel better, you can gradually increase your activity level. Listen to your body; it’ll let you know if you’re pushing too hard.

Physical and Occupational Therapy

Sometimes, a little extra help is needed. Physical therapy can address balance issues, while occupational therapy can assist in getting back to daily tasks safely.

Stay Connected

Isolation isn’t great for recovery. Stay connected with loved ones and share your feelings and progress. They can offer support, and sometimes, just having someone to chat with can boost your spirits.

Medications and Supplements

While there’s no magic pill for concussion recovery, some medications can help manage specific symptoms. Always consult with a healthcare provider before starting any new medicines.

Stay Informed

Knowledge is power. Stay informed about the latest research and recommendations related to concussion recovery. It’ll empower you and your caregivers to make informed decisions.

In a nutshell, while the road to recovery might have its bumps, with the right care and approach, older adults can navigate the challenges of a concussion and come out stronger on the other side.

Prevention Strategies

Prevention is always better than cure. Here are some strategies to reduce the risk of concussions in older adults:

Home Safety

Ensure the home is free from tripping hazards. Install handrails and use non-slip mats to prevent falls.

Regular Health Check-ups

Routine medical evaluations can identify potential risk factors and conditions that might increase the risk of falls or concussions.

Exercise and Physical Activity

Engaging in regular physical activity can improve balance, strength, and overall health, reducing the risk of falls and subsequent concussions.

Resources and Support

There are numerous organizations and services available to support older adults and their families after a concussion. From local occupational therapists to educational materials, it’s essential to utilize these resources for the best care and recovery.

This article aims to provide a comprehensive overview of concussions in older adults. However, always seek medical advice from a healthcare professional if you suspect a concussion or have concerns about head injuries.

Senior man with a concussion

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