Elderly patients with closed head trauma after a fall: mechanisms and outcomes

J Emerg Med. Sep-Oct 1998;16(5):709-13. doi: 10.1016/s0736-4679(98)00083-3.


Falls in the elderly leading to closed head trauma represent a significant cause of morbidity and mortality in that population, but are not well-characterized. The purpose of this study was to determine the mechanism of fall, outcome, and additional risk factors in elderly patients who require cranial computed tomography (CT) scan after a fall. We conducted a retrospective case series of patients age 60 years and older with closed head trauma secondary to falling who underwent CT scan in the emergency department (ED). Data were gathered from ED and hospital records. The setting was an urban Level I trauma center. Our series consisted of 189 patients, of whom 31 (16%) had an abnormal head CT scan and four (2%) required neurosurgery. Cerebral contusions (38%) and subdural hematomas (33%) were the most common lesions seen on CT scan. Falls from standing (76%) were more common than falls on stairs (19%) or from height (5%), but the latter two were more likely to result in an abnormal CT scan (stairs 42%, height 40%). An abnormal neurologic examination was associated with a higher risk of the need for neurosurgery (risk ratio 11.5). We conclude that among elderly patients who fall and present to an ED with evidence of closed head trauma, a significant percentage will have abnormal CT scans but only a small minority will require neurosurgery. While falls from standing are more common, falls on stairs or from height are associated with a higher risk of having an abnormal CT scan. A focal neurologic examination is a strong predictor of the need for neurosurgical intervention.

MeSH terms

  • Accidental Falls*
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Female
  • Head Injuries, Closed* / diagnostic imaging
  • Head Injuries, Closed* / epidemiology
  • Head Injuries, Closed* / etiology
  • Head Injuries, Closed* / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed