Given the potential effects of age on mortality, impairment, and disability among individuals with traumatic spinal cord injury [(SCI), we examined these issues using a large, prospectively accrued clinical database. This study includes all patients who were enrolled in the Third National Spinal Cord Injury Study (NASCIS 3). Motor, sensory, and pain outcomes were assessed using NASCIS scores. Functional outcome was evaluated using the Functional Independence Measure (FIM). Data analyses included regression models adjusted for major potential confounders (i.e., sex, ethnicity, Glasgow Coma Scale [GCS] score, blood alcohol concentration on admission, drug protocol, cause, and level and severity of SCI). Mortality rates among older people (> or =65 years) were significantly greater than those of younger individuals at 6 weeks, at 6 months, and at 1 year following SCI (38.6% versus 3.1%; p < 0.0001). Among survivors, age was not significantly correlated with motor recovery or change in pain scores in the acute and chronic stages after SCI based on regression analyses adjusted for major confounders. However, older individuals experienced greater functional deficit (based on FIM scores) than younger individuals, despite experiencing similar rates of sensorimotor recovery (based on NASCIS scores). Our results suggest that older individuals have a substantially increased mortality rate during the first year following traumatic SCI in comparison with younger patients. Among survivors, the potential of older patients with SCI to neurologically improve within the first year post-injury does not appear to translate into similar functional recovery compared to that seen in younger individuals. Given this fact, rehabilitation protocols that are more focused on functional recovery may reduce disability among older people with acute traumatic SCI.
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