I very recently received news from a family member across the country that she had been injured as a result of a fall. While performing some online research to try and determine the best possible resources in her area to help her cope with this difficult time in her life, I came across an interesting news item that was released by the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine on January 27, 2014. According to a study published in the Journal of Neurotrauma and conducted by Shalini Selvarajah, M.D., postdoctoral research fellow at Johns Hopkins, the single largest cause for the rise in traumatic spinal cord injuries in the United States is no longer the motor vehicle crash. Instead, the blame rests with the increasing number of falls that occur yearly, and in particular, among the elderly.
The study tracked 43,137 adults treated in hospital emergency rooms for spinal cord injuries between 2007 and 2009. Over the course of the three-year study, falls accounted for 41.5% of traumatic spinal cord injuries, followed by motor vehicle collisions at 35.5%. The average age of a patient with a traumatic spinal cord injury increased from 41 years old (during a 2000-2005 study), to 51 years old.
The big question for me was: “Why the sudden large-scale shift from car crashes to falls?” While the study did not provide a specific response, the researchers noted that we as Americans are living longer, more active lives, leading to more opportunities to be subject to injuries of this type. In addition, advances in vehicle safety are making it increasingly possible to reduce serious injury in motor vehicle collisions, while individuals injured during a fall have little to no way of protecting themselves from some degree of injury.
In the end, this study makes me recall the words of my snowboarding instructor, who always taught me to “hug myself” if I ever felt like I would fall (instead of instinctively bracing myself with my hands). Unfortunately, as in cases where someone unexpectedly falls due to the negligence of another, it is never quite that simple.