Background: Although fall-induced injuries among older adults are said to be a major public health concern in modern societies with aging populations, reliable epidemiologic information on their secular trends is limited.
Methods: We determined the current trend in the number and incidence (per 100,000 persons) of fall-induced severe cervical spine injuries (fracture, cord injury, or both) of older adults in Finland, a European Union country with a well-defined white population of 5.2 million, by taking into account all persons aged 50 years or older who were admitted to all Finnish hospitals for primary treatment of such injury in 1970-2004. Similar patients aged 20-49 years served as a reference group.
Results: The number and raw incidence of fall-induced cervical spine injury among Finns aged 50 years or older rose considerably between the years 1970 and 2004, from 59 (number) and 5.2 (incidence) in 1970 to 228 and 12.0 in 2004. The relative increases were 286% and 131%, respectively. Throughout the study period, the age-standardized incidence of injury was higher in men than women, and showed a clear increase in both sexes in 1970-2004 from 8.5 to 17.4 in men (105% increase), and from 2.8 to 6.4 in women (129% increase). A similar finding was observed in the age-specific incidences of the study group. In the reference group, the annual number and incidence of injury decreased slightly over time. Assuming that the observed increase in the age-standardized or age-specific injury incidence continues in Finns aged 50 years or older and the size of this population increases as predicted, the annual number of fall-induced cervical spine injuries in this population will be about 100% higher in the year 2030 (about 400 injuries annually) than it was during 2000-2004 (about 200 injuries annually).
Conclusions: In Finnish persons aged 50 years or older, the number of fall-induced severe cervical spine injuries seems to show an alarming rise with a rate that cannot be explained merely by demographic changes. The finding underscores an increasing influence of falls on health and well-being of our older adults; therefore, wide-scale fall-prevention measures should be urgently adopted to control this development.