March 22, 2007

Since the early 1980s spinal cord injury admissions for geriatric patients have increased 580 percent. Mortality rates are high among this group and the trend is expected to continue upward, according to research conducted at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and Jefferson’s Regional Spinal Cord Injury Center of the Delaware Valley in Philadelphia.

The phenomenon, according to researchers, is the result of an increase among the country’s population age 65 and above, which researchers estimate will represent 20 percent of the country’s population by 2040. The researchers anticipate a nationwide increase in admissions at spinal cord rehabilitation centers and an influx of patients for spine surgeons.

"Spinal cord injuries in older patients are becoming more prevalent," said James Harrop, M.D, Assistant Professor of Neurological and Orthopedic Surgery, Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University, one of the study’s primary investigators.

"The mortality of these patients is much greater than younger patients and should be factored in when considering aggressive interventions and counseling families regarding prognosis," Harrop said. However, they also found that these patients have had an increase in survival over this period.

Researchers reviewed a database of 3,481 consecutive acute penetrating and blunt spinal cord and spine-injured patients treated at Jefferson Regional Spinal Cord Injury Center over a 28-year period. The study revealed that by a strong margin of 74 percent, falls continue to be the main reason for geriatric spinal cord injuries among geriatric patients.”

“Compared to younger patients, geriatric patients with spinal-cord injuries are less likely to have severe neurological deficits but are more likely to die,” Harrop said.

The findings were presented in early March in Phoenix during The Joint Section on Disorders of the Spine and Peripheral Nerves of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons.