“In youth, we run into difficulties. In old age, difficulties run into us.”
The above quotation, by the renowned American soprano Beverly Sills, contains more than a grain of truth. In 1900, the North American life expectancy was 48. By 1930, it had risen to 61, and by 1950, to 71. Today, it sits at 78. Improvements in medicine and healthier lifestyles have greatly extended the average lifespan. Yet at the same time, those lucky enough to live into their 70s or 80s – the so-called “golden years” – may suddenly find themselves facing a whole new set of physical and intellectual challenges. Bones become more brittle, mobility decreases, joints and muscles begin to ache, and the memory is certainly not as sharp as it once was. These are all challenges that have to be faced – and very few go through life without facing some of them.
But what about those who suffer an acquired brain injury (ABI) earlier in life? As they advance in years, the normal effects of aging interact with the disabling conditions caused by their brain trauma. At this point, medical practitioners are not only witnessing a greying of the population, but also a greying of the ABI-survivor population.
Many ABI survivors live adequately on their own, or in congregate living conditions. Yet what happens to those who suffer brain injuries in their 20s or 30s, and who were forced to return home to live with their parents or other family members? Over time, those looking after them may begin to develop health issues of their own, and are less readily able to deal with the requirements of an ABI survivor.
Steps for Improving the Lives of Aging ABI Survivors
Dr Paul Aravich and Ms. Anne McDonnell, both from the department for aging and rehabilitative services of the Eastern Virginia Medical School, recommend the following steps that an ABI survivor might consider to ensure optimal health at this time in their lives:
- Engaging in moderate physical exercise
- Engaging in brain stimulation, and promoting mental health
- Avoiding tobacco, alcohol and other drugs of abuse
- Avoiding social isolation
- Reaching out to other individuals with ABIs for moral support
- Protecting the brain from further trauma
By Richard Haskell, BIST Communications Committee member.
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