The most common cause of major trauma in the UK is now falls by the elderly. That is according to an audit of cases being admitted to NHS hospitals, where a third of the incidents are of this nature. Over-60s falling from standing or sitting height is an increasingly serious problem and can lead to a number of health issues as a result.
Doctors have warned that despite the large proportion of such cases, it takes longer for older patients to be seen by an A&E consultant than their younger counterparts. This can lead to delays in diagnoses being made and treatment programmes being put in place.
The Trauma Audit and Research Network analysed the data from life-threatening traumas dealt with by the NHS in 2014. Of the total 15,972 incidents, 6,829 were associated with falling and a further 5,383 of them were people over the age of 60.
In comparison, road collisions accounted for 4,466 cases among people of all ages, the report also found. The typical trauma patient, therefore, is no longer a young man who has been in a car crash, but an elderly person who has experienced a fall in their home.
Dr Mark Baxter, of University Hospital Southampton, was the author of the study. He said: “The report makes it clear that there is a change in the nature of patients who suffer from major trauma and we need to adapt to this new reality.
“Older people, often with frailty, present a specific challenge to the trauma centres as they are more likely to have other co-existing illnesses which require a different response with specialists in care of older people involved in their care from the outset.”
In 2014, when the figures date from, 22.8 per cent of the population of England and Wales was over 60-years-old. That was up from 20.8 per cent ten years earlier and is continuing to rise. With more elderly people than ever, healthcare professionals are faced with different issues.
Professor Fiona Lecky, an expert in emergency medicine at the University of Sheffield, said: “There is an urgent need for prevention programmes to tackle this growing problem and for research to improve our understanding of how to best manage the complex challenges of major trauma in older people.”
The study also showed that 54 per cent of patients in their 70s and 43 per cent of those in their 80s were seen by a consultant upon arrival at A&E. This compares to 73 per cent of people aged between 16 and 59 and 81 per cent of children.
Professor Lecky pointed out the difficulties in diagnosing trauma among the elderly, as their injuries can be less obvious at first. She said that problems can appear fairly minor at first, but it is not until more investigations are carried out that the true extent of the trauma is often unveiled.
Unlike other types of trauma, older people who have experienced falls are likely to be talking normally and seemingly alright. Later, symptoms of head injuries can appear that were not visible earlier, thus revealing the severity of the situation.