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Older Adults And Babies Most Vulnerable To Preventable Head Injuries Suffered At Home

October 24, 2017

Accidental falls are the leading cause of non-fatal injury among Americans of all ages according to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS). And among Americans age 65 and older, falls are the leading cause of fatal injuries. Among older adults, traumatic brain injury (TBI) causes nearly 50 percent of fall-related fatalities. In children ages 4 and younger, TBI is the primary cause of fall-related death and severe injury. In 2008, nearly 8.6 million Americans suffered accidental falls according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission statistics indicate that an estimated 1.5 million people are treated for head injuries and nearly 12,000 are treated for neck fractures every year at U.S. hospital emergency rooms.

"Many head injuries occur at one's residence - whether it is a home or a nursing facility - and involve falling and bumping one's head, resulting in mild concussions to severe and even fatal TBIs, said Gail L. Rosseau, MD, a Chicago neurosurgeon and an AANS spokesperson. According to the AANS, people ages 65 and older and babies/toddlers under the age of 4 are the most vulnerable.

In 2008, more than 31,000 head injuries were attributed to common baby-related products. Some of the biggest contributors were car seats (5,899), baby strollers (5,350), high chairs (4,617), and cribs (2,847). Nearly 100 percent of these injuries affected children ages 0-4, and in those that were hospitalized, skull fractures and hematomas were the most common injuries.

Among people ages 55 and older, 129,015 were treated for head injuries related to flooring. And in that same age demographic, there were 22,347 head injuries attributed to wheelchairs and 16,075 attributed to canes, crutches, and walkers. Most of the head injuries related to these products occur as the result of falling and hitting one's head on the floor, while a lesser number involve trauma to the head when it strikes a piece of furniture or part of the home structure, such as a door or countertop.

The following 20 home-related products represent the categories contributing to the highest number of estimated head injuries treated in 2008, all ages.

- Floors or Flooring Materials: 297,961
- Stairs or Steps: 137,176
- Beds or Bedframes (other or not specified): 116,405
- Tables (not classified elsewhere): 75,805
- Ceilings and Walls (completed structure): 68,453
- Chairs (other or not specified): 60,484
- Bathtubs or Showers: 39,086
- Cabinets, Racks, Room Dividers and Shelves: 38,786
- Doors (other or not specified): 33,987
- Baby-Related (all product codes combined): 31,229
- Sofas, Couches, Davenports, Divans: 30,257
- Wheelchairs: 26,960
- Desks, Chests, Bureaus or Buffets: 26,778
- Rugs or Carpets (not specified):18,795
- Canes, Crutches, Walkers: 17,339
- Toilets: 17,004
- Toys (all toy categories combined): 15,793
- Counters or Countertops: 14,378
- Door Sills or Frames: 14,122
- Televisions: 10,384

Taking a few minutes to make simple changes around the home can help prevent falls and potentially life-altering or even fatal head injuries. The AANS offers these fall/head injury prevention tips:

Inside the Home

- Secure loose electrical cords and put away toys and any other items that are lying around.
- Do not use recalled products - discard or take back to the store.
- Keep chairs, cribs and other furniture away from windows.
- Don't leave a baby alone on a changing table, bed, couch, or other furniture. Keep one hand on the baby while changing diapers.
- Always strap a baby into a high chair, swing, changing table or strollers.
- Use safety gates and install window guards.
- Buy bath mats and rugs with slip-resistant backing.
- Secure rugs and lift them periodically to inspect the backing for wear.
- Do not walk on slippery, freshly washed floors and avoid floor waxes.
- Install grab bars and handrails if you are frail or elderly.
- Improve the lighting in your home; dim lighting can increase the risk of falls.
-Install night lights in halls and bathrooms, and keep a flashlight near your bed.
- Store products in easy-to-reach places; use stepstools/ladders only when absolutely necessary.
- Check all stair railings and steps.
- Do not wear any clothing that can interfere with your vision.
- Wear proper shoes with slip-resistant soles.

Outside the Home

- Remove ice and snow from trafficked areas.
- Inspect and remove debris from walkways, driveways, porches, and yards.
- Inspect and remove debris from lawns before mowing or gardening.
- Store outdoor equipment properly.
- Make sure that ladders are stable and secure before using them.
The AANS has free fact sheets on injury prevention online here.

American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS)