A serious injury or sudden illness is unsettling at any age. But for older people and the physicians treating them, the unexpected can be especially challenging.

Fall-related injuries are by far the most common in people age 65 and older and are the leading cause of fatal injury among older adults, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Falls can cause anything from a head injury to broken bones. But each patient’s overall condition is different. A geriatric trauma specialist is attuned to the nuances that require specific interventions.

In 2020, the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin adult Level I Trauma Center at Froedtert Hospital treated 789 people in this age group for fall-related injuries, followed by the second most common — 127 individuals — treated for motor vehicle crash injuries.

Treating traumatic injuries in the older population is complex. We might see a 67-year-old who runs every day and has a physiology similar to that of a 50- year-old, and we might see a 65-year-old whose heart or kidney disease makes them seem much older.

Older people may brush off a mishap. But traumatic injuries should not be ignored; they are one of the top 10 reasons for mortality among Americans age 65 and older.

Without consideration of underlying medical issues, injuries can be underestimated, and this affects outcomes — even for patients who have survived 60 days after the injury. That timeframe is important because injured elderly patients die more often than younger people after being discharged from the hospital.

If an older individuals’ vital signs are normal and their injuries seem minor, they may not be taken to a trauma center. But an injury that may not significantly harm a younger person can severely injure an older person. Treatment by a trauma team is often the right call. It can be key to achieving the best outcome.

Understanding how critical access to specialized trauma care is, we work with Emergency Medical Services (EMS) providers to help them more precisely evaluate older people. In our Trauma Center, patients receive a comprehensive geriatric assessment that examines not just the injury, but underlying medical issues, medications and how these factors impact a patient’s condition. Orchestrating follow-up care is important in the trauma care equation. Physical, occupational and speech therapists explore adjustments that may be needed in a patient’s home or routine.

At our Trauma Center, we are here to offer assessment and care that is geriatric-focused and addresses older patients’ needs to improve their quality of life and survival outcomes.

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Anu Elegbede, MD
About the Author

Anu Elegbede, MD, is a trauma and acute care surgeon, specializing in geriatric trauma, with the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin adult Level I Trauma Center. This article originally ran in the Waukesha Freeman.