Geriatric falls: injury severity is high and disproportionate to mechanism

J Trauma. 2001 Jan;50(1):116-9. doi: 10.1097/00005373-200101000-00021.


Objective: Falls are a well-known source of morbidity and mortality in the elderly. Fall-related injury severity in this group, however, is less clear, particularly as it relates to type of fall. Our purpose is to explore the relationship between mechanism of fall and both pattern and severity of injury in geriatric patients as compared with a younger cohort.

Methods: Our trauma registry was queried for all patients evaluated by the trauma service over a 412-year period (1994-1998). Two cohorts were formed on the basis of age greater than 65 or less than or equal to 65 years and compared as to mechanism, Injury Severity Score (ISS), Abbreviated Injury Scale score, and mortality.

Results: Over the study period, 1,512 patients were evaluated, 333 greater than 65 years and 1,179 less than or equal to 65 years of age. Falls were the injury mechanism in 48% of the older group and 7% of the younger group (p < 0.05). Falls in the older group constituted 65% of patients with ISS >15, with 32% of all falls resulting in serious injury (ISS >15). In contrast, falls in the younger group constituted only 11% of ISS >15 patients, with falls causing serious injury only 15% of the time (both p < 0.05). Notably, same-level falls resulted in serious injury 30% of the time in the older group versus 4% in the younger group (p < 0.05), and were responsible for an ISS >15 30-fold more in the older group (31% vs. <1%; p < 0.05). Abbreviated Injury Scale evaluation revealed more frequent head/neck (47% vs. 22%), chest (23% vs. 9%), and pelvic/extremity (27% vs. 15%) injuries in the older group for all falls (all p < 0.05). The mean ISS for same-level falls in the older group was twice that for the younger group (9.28 vs. 4.64, p < 0.05), whereas there was no difference in mean ISS between multilevel and same-level falls within the older group itself (10.12 vs. 9.28, p > 0.05). The fall-related death rate was higher in the older group (7% vs. 4%), with falls seven times more likely to be the cause of death compared with the younger group (55% vs. 7.5%) (both p < 0.05). Same-level falls as a cause of death was 10 times more common in the elderly (25% vs. 2.5%, p < 0.05).

Conclusion: Falls among the elderly, including same-level falls, are a common source of both high injury severity and mortality, much more so than in younger patients. A different pattern of injury between older and younger fall patients also exists.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Accidental Falls / mortality
  • Accidental Falls / statistics & numerical data*
  • Aged
  • Geriatrics / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Injury Severity Score*
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies