Falls have surpassed motor vehicle accidents as the leading cause of traumatic spinal cord injuries in the United States, a new study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University has found. The researchers also reported that rates of spinal cord injuries are rising fastest among those 65 and older.
The researchers analyzed records of a representative sample of 43,137 adults who received emergency room treatment for spinal cord injuries in 2007 through 2009. The average age of adults suffering such injuries was 51. A study covering 2000-2005 found the average age was 41.
The Johns Hopkins researchers said that fall accidents accounted for 41.5 percent of traumatic spinal cord injuries. Car accidents accounted for 35.5 percent.
The researchers believe that falls are causing more traumatic spinal cord injuries because of population aging and active lifestyles of many older Americans. Technology has contributed to safety improvements in motor vehicles, with airbags and seatbelts that reduce injuries in crashes.
Falls Affecting Older Adults
Spinal injuries can vary in severity from bruising to mild, temporary numbness to life-altering paralysis. Further, studies indicate older adults with traumatic spinal cord injury are four times more likely to die in the emergency room than younger adults. If older patients are admitted to a hospital after suffering such an injury, they are six times more likely to die during their stay.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that a third of all adults age 65 and older will fall and suffer injuries such as hip fractures, head trauma or spinal cord injuries. Some of these injuries will be moderate. Others will be severe.
In 2010, 2.3 million adults were treated in emergency rooms for nonfatal fall injuries. More than 662,000 of them were admitted for further treatment, according to the CDC.
In New York, two older adults die from falls each day, the Center for Environmental Health Bureau of Occupational Health and Injury Prevention reports. In addition, 140 older adults are hospitalized daily due to falls, and 223 are seen in emergency departments.
Sixty percent of adults 65 and older who are admitted to a hospital after a fall will end up in a nursing home or a rehabilitation center.
Men have a higher risk of death due to falls, and women have a higher risk of hip fracture when they fall, according to the New York Center for Environmental Health.
Falls can also cause cuts and lacerations, chronic pain, painful sprains, broken pelvis, shoulder injuries, torn tendons and ligaments and long-term or permanent disability.
Further, the Center reports people who have previously fallen are at an increased risk to fall again.
Falls can occur because of leg weakness, balance problems, vision impairment, chronic health conditions, a fear of falling and medications.
Environmental hazards also put older Americans at risk. These hazards include:
- Slippery or damaged flooring surfaces
- Wobbly furniture
- Poor lighting
- Stairs with no railings
People of all ages can help prevent falls by following some simple steps:
- Improve home safety by installing handrails on stairways, anchoring rugs, and removing clutter.
- Make sure there is ample lighting.
- Install nonslip mats in the shower and tub.
- Wear shoes with nonslip soles.
- Get plenty of exercise focusing on leg strength and balance.
- Make sure your vision is clear.
- Make sure your diet includes enough calcium and Vitamin D.