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