Death of Bob Saget: A Reminder To Us All To Be Proactive About Head Injuries
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, J.D., Founder
I’ve bumped my head a number of times and never really thought much about it. But the recent passing of actor, comedian and one of America’s favorite television dads, Bob Saget, got my attention. It made me realize we all might want to be more careful.
According to a report from CNN, 65-year-old Saget died of “blunt head trauma.” The National Institutes of Health (NIH) defines blunt head trauma as mild, moderate or severe traumatic brain injury (TBI).
“Traumatic Brain Injury is a significant cause of morbidity and mortality in the United States, with an annual occurrence of more than 1.5 million. Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injury, and motor vehicle-related incidents are the second leading cause,” reports the NIH.
The CNN report discusses the results of Saget’s autopsy and comments from the Orange County Medical Examiner’s Office. Saget was found unresponsive in a hotel room. The actor and comedian performed an “hours-long” standup (according to several reports) the night before his death. The Medical Examiner reports that Saget appeared to fall backwards and hit the “posterior aspect of his head.”
The autopsy revealed that he also had COVID-19. Additional findings showed that Saget had an enlarged heart (with 95% blocked on one side) as well as medications in his system, including Clonazepam/Klonopin (which can be used to treat seizures, panic disorders and anxiety) and Trazodone (an antidepressant). No alcohol was found in Saget’s system. There are still a lot of unknowns here and although you can’t believe everything you read when it comes to the death of a celebrity, many reports are saying that Saget’s head trauma was very severe.
For example, one report says that it was like he had been hit with a baseball bat or had fallen 20 to 30 feet. Regardless, Saget appeared to have thought nothing of it and went to sleep. Honestly, I find this very hard to believe. It sounds like an injury like this
would have been excruciatingly painful. There is not really any information on how he fell exactly, but I respect the family’s privacy and the main takeaway perhaps is that we can’t ignore our injuries or pain (which so many of us do).
Sadly, Saget is not the only celebrity that has died due to head trauma. You might be familiar with the story of actress Natasha Richardson. Back in 2009, she hit her head in a skiing accident and died at just 45-years-old. I also recently learned that 62-year-old Mark Shand, who was the younger brother of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall (wife of Prince Charles) died back in 2014 after falling and hitting his head on a sidewalk in New York City.
I have never experienced severe TBI, but I have like so many bumped my head. We might want to start taking these bumps more seriously, especially if we feel 'off' after a bump or have a headache.
“Head injuries are one of the most common causes of disability and death in adults. The injury can be as mild as a bump, bruise (contusion), or cut on the head, or can be moderate to severe in nature due to a concussion, deep cut or open wound, fractured skull bone(s), or from internal bleeding and damage to the brain,” according to John Hopkins Medicine.
John Hopkins describes the different types of head injuries in a way that makes it easy for the average person to digest. Here they are:
- Concussion. A head injury resulting in loss of awareness or alertness. May occur for a few minutes up to a few hours after the injury.
- Skull fracture. A break in the skull bone. There are four major types of skull fractures:
- Linear skull fracture. The most common kind. A break is present, but it does not move the bone. “These patients may be observed in the hospital for a brief amount of time, and can usually resume normal activities in a few days. Usually, no interventions are necessary,” according to John Hopkins.
- Depressed skull fracture. May be seen without a cut in the scalp. Part of the skull is actually sunken in and may require surgery.
- Diastatic skull fracture. More common in newborns and infants. This fracture involves the skull’s suture lines, which are the areas between the bones in our head that fuse when we are children.
- Basilar skull fracture. Most serious kind. A break in the bone at the base of the skull. “Patients with this type of fracture frequently have bruises around their eyes and a bruise behind their ear. They may also have clear fluid draining from their nose or ears due to a tear in part of the covering of the brain. These patients usually require close observation in the hospital,” reports John Hopkins. This appears to be the kind of fracture Saget had. According to this report, he had an abrasion on his scalp, fracture at the base of his skull, fractures around his eye sockets, bleeding between the brain and tissue covering the brain and bruises to the brain.
- Intracranial hematoma (ICH). There are different kinds of ICH, and these are blood clots in or around the brain. Types are defined by their location in the brain and can be either mild or so serious that they are life-threatening.
- Epidural hematoma. Blot clot that forms underneath the skull but on top of the dura (a very tough membrane that covers the brain and spinal cord). These are usually associated with skull fractures.
- Subdural hematoma. A blood clot that forms underneath the skull and dura but outside of the brain. “These can form from a tear in the veins that go from the brain to the dura, or from a cut on the brain itself. They are sometimes, but not always, associated with a skull fracture,” according to John Hopkins.
- Contusion or intracerebral hematoma. This is a bruise to the brain itself. Causes bleeding and swelling inside of the brain around the area where the trauma occurred. "Bleeding that occurs inside the brain itself (also called intraparenchymal hemorrhage) can sometimes occur spontaneously. When trauma is not the cause, the most common causes are long-standing, high blood pressure in older adults, bleeding disorders in either children or adults, or the use of medications that cause blood thinning or certain illicit drugs,” (John Hopkins).
- Diffuse axonal injury (DAI). Relatively common and happens when the brain is shaken back and forth. This can happen with car accidents, falls and shaken baby syndrome. This injury can range from a mild concussion to the patient being in a coma for a long period of time.
It’s critical to know the signs, and sometimes it is not always easy to read these signs. For example, “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,” according to University of Michigan Health.
“Symptoms of a concussion range from mild to severe and can last for hours, days, weeks, or even months.”
Some symptoms of a concussion may include:
- Unable to remember events prior to or after injury
- Personality changes
- Difficulty concentrating
- Loss of consciousness
- Simply “not feeling right”
- Nausea and vomiting
- Balance issues
- Being bothered by light or noise
Head injuries are nothing to brush off, even if you have a slight bump on the head that you think just an over-the-counter pain reliever will take care of. In my opinion, it is always better to be safe than sorry. Actress Dana Delany sought medical attention after falling down a flight of stairs and hitting her head. She said she thought about the death of Bob Saget and knew it was important to get looked at.
If you have a child who plays sports, especially football, concussions and head injuries are especially important to be mindful of.
What about sleeping after a concussion?
You might have heard that you should not sleep after having a concussion. There are a variety of opinions about this. Depending on the severity of your injury, some medical sources say that you can go to sleep but must be woken up every two hours.
“If the person who is injured is awake and holding a conversation, you can let him or her fall asleep as long as they are not developing any other symptoms such as dilated pupils or issues with walking,” according to UAMS Health.
I think it is always best to err on the side of caution, and let a competent medical practitioner give you the green light to sleep after sustaining a head injury.
Falls, head injuries and nutrition are all related.
As mentioned, head injuries resulting from falls are quite common in older adults. Older people are more at risk of falls due to age-related muscle loss (also called sarcopenia). Sarcopenia actually means “lack of flesh” and has been called “the new osteoporosis.”
You can be proactive (no matter what your age) by exercising (particularly resistance training which encourages muscle support and growth), eating a nutrient-rich diet with plenty of protein from healthy sources such as fish or lentils and undergoing routine nutrient testing.
It is extremely important to determine whether you are absorbing adequate amounts of nutrients such as vitamins and minerals from the foods you eat as you age. Your body’s ability to absorb nutrients decreases with age. And one of the best ways to determine whether you have any nutrient deficiencies is to obtain a nutritional test. It is always important to be mindful of medications you may be taking. For example, some blood pressure medications may increase your risk of falls.
For more details on how you can prevent falls with good nutrition, check out this ph Labs blog.
Enjoy your healthy life!
The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses, and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products, and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.