Why elderly people are more at risk from trauma

“We used to call trauma the disease of the under-40s,” says Dr Elaine Cole, “but we’ve realised there’s a large increase in the proportion of elderly people – and not just over 60s, but over 75s and 80s affected by trauma too.”

People over 60 now make up the largest number of people affected by trauma and they are twice as likely to die from their injuries as younger people. Dr Elaine Cole, the director of research and innovation for the London Trauma System, is currently studying how older people's bodies react differently to trauma than their younger counterparts. 

“Being hit by a bus isn’t the problem,” she says. “It’s all the things that happen afterwards, like clotting problems and the immune system’s ability to fight off infection, which seem to be worse for older people."

Who is affected?

“We have started to realise there are two groups of older people affected by trauma, namely, the frail elderly, perhaps people who have dementia, live in a care home and are falling from a chair and suffering head and brain injuries.

“But we also have a group of very well, fit, older people who are still gardening, cycling, driving, looking after their grandchildren, playing sport and still working. Because they are out and about and more active than they would have been 20 or 30 years ago, they are suffering more injuries.”

What is being done about it?

Currently, research into the effects of serious injury on older people is limited. Much of the early research into trauma was done in the military, usually on young, fit men. Dr Elaine Cole says, “Older people appear to have worse outcomes compared to younger counterparts, but we don’t fully understand why this is. Common problems for these patients include organ failure, abnormal clotting and severe infection.”

She is currently leading a study called 'MODET' - Multiple Organ Dysfunction in Elderly Trauma - to try and understand this better. This is taking place at the Centre for Trauma Sciences, who we are supporting through our Trauma Appeal. 

Dr Cole's research was recently featured in the Daily Express - click here to read the article online. 

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