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Hit Your Head? Don’t Ignore Signs of Concussion

May 27, 2022

Playing a high-impact sport like football or hockey isn’t the only way to get a concussion. And kids aren’t the only ones who hit their heads. If you’re older than 65, you also are at risk.

Concussions are much more common than most people realize. Every year from recreational sports alone, between 1.6 million and 3.8 million Americans suffer a concussion. Add in falls and other household injuries, and the number is much higher.

Making this diagnosis more complicated is that it’s often overlooked. Many who suffer a concussion either ignore the injury, dismissing it as a headache, or fail to consider how serious it might be. This can be dangerous because long-term effects can include disrupted memory, balance, sleep and mood.

The biggest myth surrounding concussions is that they happen only on the football field or during any rough sport in which head-to-head collisions are common. While concussions are likely in those instances, they can also happen on the track field, basketball court or anyplace where physical activity is occurring. Something as simple as a collision with the basketball pole can cause a concussion.

For this reason, high school and college kids active in sports are most likely to experience a concussion.

Older Adults at Risk, Too

But adults over the age of 65 also are prone to concussions. As we age, our eyesight, hearing, balance and strength decline, making a fall much more likely.

Whether falling in the shower, from a wheelchair or while stepping off a curb, you can suffer a head injury. In the moment, that injury may seem like nothing more than a bump on the head, but it could be far more serious.

If you’ve had any type of head injury, it’s worth monitoring. The most important symptoms to look for are that may require immediate attention are:

  • Severe headache
  • Loss of strength in any area of the body, especially one side of the body
  • Vomiting
  • Pupils dilated more than usual
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Loss of sensation in fingers and toes

The signs immediately following impact that may indicate either a traumatic brain injury or a concussion, which also need immediate medical attention, include:

  • Slurred speech
  • Seizures
  • Irritability
  • Confusion
  • Memory loss or memory problems
  • Head pain
  • Nausea

Signs that can also indicate a concussion include:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue

Keep Eye on Changes in Behavior

In the absence of these immediate signs, a head injury may still warrant medical attention if there is any change in behavior in the days that follow. You may not realize these changes are happening, so it’s best to ask family, friends and coworkers to look for any of these signs:

Difficulty making a decision. If you’re suffering from a concussion, you will likely have difficulty making both major and minor decisions. Even something as simple as choosing what you want for breakfast or dinner can become stressful. Difficulty making decisions can also look like increased impulsivity, as you may no longer be able to clearly weigh choices and consequences.

Increased fatigue. This piggybacks on indecisiveness. Increased fatigue can look like excessive tiredness following a previously simple task or exercise, such as pushing the grocery cart and shopping. The number of decisions involved in this task, coupled with the physicality of the errand, can be overwhelming.

Trouble focusing on work. Brain injuries affect your ability to focus on a task for a prolonged period. You can become easily distracted, struggling to finish projects. Difficulty focusing can also look like restlessness or an inability to sit down.

These cognitive and behavioral signs can show up right after the injury or may grow increasingly apparent in the days that follow. If these signs are not improving or become worse over a few days to a week, it is likely time to see a primary care physician, who can refer you to a neurologist if necessary.

Your neurologist will perform a medical evaluation and may suggest a CT or MRI scan to fully assess the extent and severity of the injury to determine next steps.

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