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Effect of older age on treatment decisions and outcomes among patients with traumatic spinal cord injury [Research]

Background:

Older people are at increased risk of traumatic spinal cord injury from falls. We evaluated the impact of older age (≥ 70 yr) on treatment decisions and outcomes.

Methods:

We identified patients with traumatic spinal cord injury for whom consent and detailed data were available from among patients recruited (2004–2013) at any of the 31 acute care and rehabilitation hospitals participating in the Rick Hansen Spinal Cord Injury Registry. Patients were assessed by age group (< 70 v. ≥ 70 yr). The primary outcome was the rate of acute surgical treatment. We used bivariate and multivariate regression models to assess patient and injury-related factors associated with receiving surgical treatment and with the timing of surgery after arrival to a participating centre.

Results:

Of the 1440 patients included in our study cohort, 167 (11.6%) were 70 years or older at the time of injury. Older patients were more likely than younger patients to be injured by falling (83.1% v. 37.4%; p < 0.001), to have a cervical injury (78.0% v. 61.6%; p = 0.001), to have less severe injuries on admission (American Spinal Injury Association Impairment Scale grade C or D: 70.5% v. 46.9%; p < 0.001), to have a longer stay in an acute care hospital (median 35 v. 28 d; p < 0.005) and to have a higher in-hospital mortality (4.2% v. 0.6%; p < 0.001). Multivariate analysis did not show that age of 70 years or more at injury was associated with a decreased likelihood of surgical treatment (adjusted odds ratio [OR] 0.48, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.22–1.07). An unplanned sensitivity analysis with different age thresholds showed that a threshold of 65 years was associated with a decreased chance of surgical treatment (OR 0.39, 95% CI 0.19–0.80). Older patients who underwent surgical treatment had a significantly longer wait time from admission to surgery than younger patients (37 v. 19 h; p < 0.001).

Interpretation:

We found chronological age to be a factor influencing treatment decisions but not at the 70-year age threshold that we had hypothesized. Older patients waited longer for surgery and had a substantially higher in-hospital mortality despite having less severe injuries than younger patients. Further research into the link between treatment delays and outcomes among older patients could inform surgical guideline development.

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