Contributions by: Megan Otto & Amanda Whalen, PT, DPT
When someone hears the word “concussion” their thoughts may immediately jump to a young athlete, maybe a soccer or football player, who has sustained a hard blow to their head in a game or during practice. But concussions aren’t just injuries that athletes endure. Older adults are also a large population who are prone to suffering from concussions.
A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) that is caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head. Concussions can also be caused by indirect force to the head, such as a fall or a blow to the body that causes the head to move rapidly back and forth.
Concussions are often missed or even misdiagnosed among older adults, so caregivers and family need to be on high alert for signs and symptoms. Most concussions seen in older adults are related to an injury from a fall. PRN physical therapist, Amanda Whalen, suggests that older adults often do not mention falls to others or they may not verbalize the symptoms they are suffering from.
Being aware of concussion signs and symptoms is critical to catching a concussion, which is often a missed injury as you cannot physically “see” it. There are four key categories that concussion symptoms are often grouped in, and they are depicted in the chart below:
Typically, a concussion will heal within seven to 10 days. But if the signs and symptoms noted above are missed and trauma to the brain continues, treatment and concussion recovery can take much longer. Thankfully, physical therapy can help!
Individuals suffering from concussions can find that physical therapy treatment can help relieve symptoms and be beneficial to recover.
“When a patient suffering from a concussion comes in for treatment, balance is a big thing that we work on,” says Whalen, PT. “We also work on the neck to relax guarded muscles and make sure that joints are moving properly. All of these affect balance and other typical day-to-day activities, like driving or going to school.”
Low impact activities, like walking or riding a stationary bike, are also proven to help those recovering from a concussion get back to normal. But not all activities are beneficial. Those involving technology, such as watching TV, working on a computer or staring at a phone screen, can have a big impact on the return to normalcy and can prolong symptoms. This is an important reminder for individuals who may be bored during recovery — technology is not always our friend!
Whether you or a loved one has suffered from a concussion before, the most important thing to remember is that if any of the symptoms of a concussion are being experienced, you should tell someone. Listening to your body is so important, especially with concussions as putting off treatment can prolong recovery.
“You have to be aware that this (a concussion) is not just going to affect your next week, it is going to affect you for the next year if you don’t take care of it,” says Whalen. “The more trauma, the more blunt forces to the head or falls that you have, it is going to be detrimental to your brain health as well.”
If you or someone you know has recently had trauma to the head and is experiencing any signs and symptoms of a concussion, we urge you to reach out to your physical therapist for treatment. Concussions are often overlooked as they are an injury that cannot be seen, but physical therapy can aid in and accelerate recovery. You can find your nearest clinic location here.
Special thanks to Amanda Whalen, PT, DPT, from our sister location PRN in La Jolla, California.