Seniors and Spinal Surgery

While the success rates for patients undergoing traditional spinal fusion surgery have gradually increased among all age groups with improved techniques, older patients may face additional obstacles when dealing with traumatic spinal cord injuries. Recent research suggests that older patients experience a greater lag time between sustaining their injury and having surgery to correct the damage to the spinal cord than their younger counterparts with similar injuries.

Increased Age for Sustaining Serious Spinal Cord Injuries

The average age of patients sustaining spinal cord injuries is gradually increasing. Reasons often given for the increase include an aging population and an increasing number of seniors remaining active later in life. Patients over 70 often sustain traumatic spinal cord injuries from accidental falls whereas younger patients tend to experience other types of accidents resulting in the injury.

Treatment Based On Apparent Severity of the Injury

Younger patients, according to a Canadian study, are more likely to experience paralysis at or below the site of a traumatic spinal cord injury than older patients. However, older patients stay in the hospital twice as long. Traumatic spinal cord injuries in older patients also tend to be less severe, although some older patients may not exhibit the same symptoms as younger patients sustaining a similar SCI, possibly resulting in prioritizing surgeries.

Longer Waiting Period Once Admitted for Treatment

The study found that older patients waited twice as long to receive spinal surgery for their SCI over younger patients. Part of the reason for this may be difficulty in diagnosing less severe injuries since pain older patients are experiencing may be related to conditions that preexisted before the new injury. The study also suggested a possible therapeutic bias where younger patients are given preferential treatment.

The danger with prioritizing treatment for severe spinal cord injuries comes from the ultimate outcome from such injuries. Older patients are more likely to die from traumatic spinal cord injuries than younger patients. A possible solution offered by researchers is to establish a mandatory treatment period for traumatic spinal cord injuries similar to what’s done with hip fractures to improve the outcome for older patients.

To learn more about the spinal treatments currently available, reach out to The Spine Institute Center at (310) 828-7757. Dr. Bae, the center’s medical director, specializes in both fusion and motion-preserving spine surgery. Schedule an in-person consultation and start your journey toward a pain-free life.