Identifying Medical Conditions: Concussion

What is a concussion?

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury that is caused by a blow to the head or body, a fall, or another injury that jars or shakes the brain inside the skull. Although there may be cuts or bruises on the head or face, there may be no other visible signs of a brain injury.

You don’t have to pass out (lose consciousness) to have a concussion. Some people will have obvious symptoms of a concussion, such as passing out or forgetting what happened right before the injury. But other people won’t. With rest, most people fully recover from a concussion. Some people recover within a few hours. Other people take a few weeks to recover.

It’s important to know that after a concussion the brain is more sensitive to damage. So while you are recovering, be sure to avoid activities that might injure you again.

In rare cases, concussions cause more serious problems. Repeated concussions or a severe concussion may lead to long-lasting problems with movement, learning, or speaking. Because of the small chance of serious problems, it is important to contact a doctor if you or someone you know has symptoms of a concussion.

Elderly people are prone to falling over – they can trip on a mat or simply lose their balance. The person may be living alone or are on their own for a short period while you are out shopping. They could have a fall and bang their head leading to a concussion but be unaware that they are concussed.

Having recovered they may have no memory of the event. You are the first person to visit or see them.  They may or may not have obvious physical injuries that show something has happened.

What causes a concussion?

Your brain is a soft organ that is surrounded by spinal fluid and protected by your hard skull. Normally, the fluid around your brain acts like a cushion that keeps your brain from banging into your skull. But if your head or your body is hit hard, your brain can crash into your skull and be injured.

There are many ways to get a concussion. Some common ways include fights, falls, playground injuries, car crashes, and bike accidents. Concussions can also happen while participating in any sport or activity such as football, boxing, hockey, soccer, skiing, or snowboarding.

What are the symptoms?

It is not always easy to know if someone has a concussion. You don’t have to pass out (lose consciousness) to have a concussion.

Symptoms of a concussion range from mild to severe and can last for hours, days, weeks, or even months. If you notice any symptoms of a concussion, contact your doctor.

Other signs to look out for are:

  • Persistent headaches
  • General confusion
  • Slurred or confused speech
  • Visible injury to the head or face
  • Injury to parts of the body that might indicate a fall
  • Problems with vision – double vision
  • Loss of balance or problems walking
  • Difficulty in understanding what you say to them
  • Drowsiness that occurs when they would normally be alert
  • Vomiting
  • Memory loss that is not normal for the person


What to do

If you find your loved one unconscious or they are having difficulty staying awake, speaking, understanding what you are saying, bleeding from one or both ears, or anything that makes you suspect a serious head injury ring for an ambulance immediately.  If you suspect a minor bump call their doctor. People may look or think they are fine even though they are acting or feeling differently.  It is wise to get it checked out.

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