New Data Shows Falls Now Exceed Car Crashes as Leading Cause of SCI
Until just recently, automobile accidents ranked as the leading cause of spinal cord injuries in the US. However, a recent study based on an updated spinal cord injury research and data indicates that falls, particularly among the senior population, have surpassed car crashes as the number one cause of accidental, traumatic spinal cord injuries.
The study’s authors also suggest that programs to prevent falls in elderly people could significantly reduce the number of spinal injuries in the nation, based upon the results of the updated research. The new data set was taken from a body of 43,000 adults with spinal cord injuries who were treated in hospital emergency rooms between 2007 and 2009. The rate of injury among people ages 18 to 64 dropped from about 52 people per million in 2007 to about 50 per million in 2009, according to a Johns Hopkins Medicine news release.
Falls in Nursing Homes and among the General Senior Population are likely Contributing Factors
According to the study, published in the late January issue of the Journal of Neurotrauma, the rate of spinal injuries among people 65 and older rose from about 79 people per million to nearly 88 per million during that same time. Study co-leader Dr. Edward Hammond a research associate at the International Center for Spinal Cord Injury at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, said in the news release:
“We are seeing a changing face in the epidemiology of spinal cord injury.”
The updated spinal cord research shows falls accounted for 41.5 percent of spinal cord injuries during the study period, followed by car accidents at 35.5 percent. The researchers also found that fall-related spinal cord injuries accounted for 30 percent of all injuries among senior citizens in 2009, compared to only 23.6 percent in 2007.
Earlier spinal cord injury research established the average age of adults with spinal cord injuries at 41 years of age between 2000 and 2005. It has since increased to 51, according to the current study. The researchers also found that seniors with spinal cord injuries are four times more likely than younger patients to die from those injuries in the emergency room. Elderly patients also are six times more likely to die after being admitted to the hospital with a spinal cord injury.
Health Care System Strained by Costs of Treating Spinal Cord Injuries
Researchers say a combination of the overall aging of the U.S. population, the more active lifestyles of seniors and increased crash protection provided by airbags and seatbelt laws is a likely cause behind the changing trends in spinal cord injury patient demographics.
Spinal cord injury researchers also found that these injuries are a growing financial burden on the health care system as well as the US taxpayers. From 2007 to 2009, emergency-room charges alone for spinal cord injuries totaled $1.6 billion. Those charges increased 20 percent over the study period — well above the rate of inflation, researchers pointed out. Study co-leader Dr. Shalini Selvarajah, a postdoctoral surgical research fellow at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, was quoted in a press release:
“It’s an area that is ripe for prevention. We have demonstrated how costly traumatic spinal cord injury is and how lethal and disabling it can be among older people.”