Introduction: As the population ages, the number of injured elderly is increasing. We sought to determine if low skeletal muscle mass adversely affected outcome in elderly patients following trauma.
Methods: Patients ≥ 65 years of age with an admission abdominal computed tomography scan and requiring intensive care unit (ICU) stay at a Level I trauma center in 2009-2010 were reviewed. Muscle cross-sectional area at the 3rd lumbar vertebra was quantified and muscle index, a normalized measure of muscle mass, was calculated and related to clinical parameters including ventilator-free days, ICU-free days, and mortality. Using previously established sex-specific, muscle index cut-points, patients were then categorized as sarcopenic or non-sarcopenic and differences in clinical outcomes between these two groups were also compared. We also examined muscle index as a continuous variable relative to the same clinical outcomes.
Results: There were 149 severely injured elderly patients (median age 79 years) enrolled in this study of which 71% were sarcopenic. Of the patients who were sarcopenic, 9% were underweight, 44% normal weight, and 47% overweight/obese as per body mass index (BMI) classifications. The overall mortality rate was 27% and univariate analysis demonstrated higher mortality among those who were sarcopenic (32% vs. 14%, P = 0.018). After controlling for age, sex, and injury severity, multiple logistic regression demonstrated that increased muscle index was significantly associated with decreased mortality (OR per unit muscle index = 0.93, 95% CI: 0.875-0.997, P = 0.025). In addition, multivariate linear regression showed that sarcopenia, but not muscle index, was associated with decreased ventilator-free (P = 0.004) and ICU-free days (P = 0.002). Neither BMI, serum albumin nor total adipose tissue on admission were indicative of survival, ventilator-free or ICU-free days.
Conclusions: Sarcopenia is highly prevalent in the elderly population with traumatic injuries. Traditional measures of nutritional assessment, such as BMI and serum albumin, do not accurately predict outcome in the injured elderly. Sarcopenia, however, represents a potential new predictor for mortality, discharge disposition, and ICU utilization. Measurement of muscularity allows for the early identification of at-risk patients who may benefit from aggressive and multidisciplinary nutritional and rehabilitative strategies.