Study Shows Rise in Spinal Cord Injuries Among the Elderly

Spinal Cord Injuries in Older Adults

In general, the incidence rate of spinal cord injuries (SCIs) has been pretty stable in the U.S. over the past few decades. However, according to a recent study in JAMA, researchers have identified a rise in these injuries among the elderly. Most likely, the trend suggests that, due to the increase in population of older adults and the increased incidence rate of serious falls, SCIs are on the rise, too.

The study looked at more than 63,000 patients who suffered from acute traumatic spinal cord injuries. Between 1993 and 2012, the total number of individualswho sustained one of these injuries each year rose from 2,659 to 3,393. While those in the medical profession are accustomed to seeing these injuries in young males, the “incidence rate among the younger male population declined.” However, in both male and female populations, the authors of the study observed an increase in the incidence rate among the elderly. In other words, while age and sex used to be the primary factors for identifying SCI risk, now it looks as though age alone could be the most important risk factor.

Although an increased amount of older adults are suffering spinal injuries from falls, the study also indicated that the overall mortality rate for people over the age of 84 actually decreased significantly from 24 percent to 20 percent between 1993 and 2012. At the same time, “the percentage of spinal cord injury associated with falls increased significantly from 28 percent in 1997-2000 to 66 percent in 2010-2012 in those 65 years or older.”

The authors of the study emphasized the fact that spinal cord injuries in older adults are “a major public health issue.” Why are more elderly Americans suffering SCIs from falls than they used to? While the population of seniors has risen, researchers believe that the increase in injuries to the spine “likely represents a more active 65- to 84-year-old U.S. population currently compared with the 1990s, which increases the risk of falls in this age group.”

Preventing Spinal Cord Injuries from Falls

When we take a look at some of the most common advice for preventing spinal cord injuries, we find tips for engaging safely in contact sports and other related activities. But given that the recent study showed the elder population is now at greatest risk of suffering a spinal cord injury in a fall, it is important to understand the various ways to prevent a fall from happening in the first place.

The Mayo Clinic identifies falls as one of the primary causes of spinal cord injuries, and it provides some essential tips for preventing fall accidents among the elderly:

  • Speak with your doctor. Fall prevention for seniors often begins by talking with your physician about current medications you are taking, side effects that could increase your risk of a fall, and eye or ear disorders that could lead you to slip and fall. By discussing fall prevention with your doctor, he or she can help to prevent an accident from happening by evaluating your muscle strength, as well as your balance and walking style.
  • Wear shoes with non-skid soles. You are less likely to slip and fall if you are wearing shoes that fit you properly and have non-skid soles. Wearing shoes with higher heels or slick soles can quickly result in a dangerous fall.
  • Remove hazards from your home. Falls often result from tripping, so be sure to remove any hazards that could lead to a slip, trip, and fall. For example, move potential tripping hazards from high-traffic areas in your home and repair any loose carpeting or flooring. In addition, use non-slip mats in the bathtub or shower to avoid slipping.
  • Use proper lighting. If you can see tripping or slipping hazards in your path, a fall accident is less likely to occur.
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