The authors undertook this study to evaluate the incidence of spinal cord injury (SCI) in geriatric patients (> or = 70 years of age) and examine the impact of patient age, extent of neurological injury, and spinal level of injury on the mortality rate associated with traumatic SCI.

A prospectively maintained SCI database (3481 patients) at a single institution was retrospectively studied for the period from 1978 through 2005. Parameters analyzed included patient age, admission American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA) motor score, level of SCI, mechanism of injury, and mortality data. The data pertaining to the 412 patients 70 years of age and older were compared with those pertaining to the younger cohort using a chi-square analysis.

Since 1980, the number of SCI-related hospital admissions per year have increased fivefold in geriatric patients and the percentage of geriatric patients within the SCI population has increased from 4.2 to 15.4%. In comparison with younger patients, geriatric patients were found to be less likely to have severe neurological deficits (greater percentage of ASIA Grades C and D injuries), but the mortality rates were higher in the older age group both for the period of hospitalization (27.7% compared with 3.2%, p < 0.001) and during 1-year follow-up. The mortality rates in this older population directly correlate with the severity of neurological injury (1-year mortality rate, ASIA Grade A 66%, Grade D 23%, p < 0.001). The mortality rate in elderly patients with SCI has not changed significantly over the last two decades, and the 1-year mortality rate was greater than 40% in all periods analyzed.

Spinal cord injuries in older patients are becoming more prevalent. The mortality rate in this patient group is much greater than in younger patients and should be taken into account when aggressive interventions are considered and in counseling families regarding prognosis.

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