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Blunt Head Injury in the Elderly: Analysis of the NEXUS II Injury Cohort.

BACKGROUND: Changes with aging make older patients vulnerable to blunt head trauma and alter the potential for injury and the injury patterns seen among this expanding cohort. High-quality care requires a clear understanding of the factors associated with blunt head injuries in the elderly. Our objective was to develop a detailed assessment of the injury mechanisms, presentations, injury patterns, and outcomes among older blunt head trauma patients.

METHODS: We conducted a planned secondary analysis of patients aged 65 or greater who were enrolled in the National Emergency X-Radiography Utilization Study (NEXUS) Head Computed Tomography validation study. We performed a detailed assessment of the demographics, mechanisms, presentations, injuries, interventions, and outcomes among older patients.

RESULTS: We identified 3,659 patients aged 65 years or greater, among the 11,770 patients enrolled in the NEXUS validation study. Of these older patients, 325 (8.9%) sustained significant injuries, as compared with significant injuries in 442 (5.4%) of the 8,111 younger patients. Older females (1,900; 51.9%) outnumbered older males (1,753; 47.9%), and occult presentations (exhibiting no high-risk clinical criteria beyond age) occurred in 48 (14.8%; 95% confidence interval (CI) 11.1 to 19.1) patients with significant injuries. Subdural hematomas (377 discreet lesions in 299 patients) and subarachnoid hemorrhages (333 discreet instances in 256 patients) were the most frequent types of injuries occurring in our elderly population. A ground-level fall was the most frequent mechanism of injury among all patients (2,211; 69.6%), those sustaining significant injuries (180; 55.7%), and those who died of their injuries (37; 46.3%), but mortality rates were highest among patients experiencing a fall from a ladder (11.8%; 4 deaths among 34 cases [95% CI 3.3% to 27.5%]) and automobile versus pedestrian events (10.7%; 16 deaths among 149 cases [95% CI 6.3% to 16.9%]). Among older patients who required neurosurgical intervention for their injuries, only 16.4% (95% CI 11.1% to 22.9%) were able to return home, 32.1% (95% CI 25.1% to 39.8%) required extended facility care, and 41.8% (95% CI 34.2% to 49.7%) died from their injuries.

CONCLUSIONS: Older blunt head injury patients are at high risk of sustaining serious intracranial injuries even with low-risk mechanisms of injury, such as ground-level falls. Clinical evaluation is unreliable and frequently fails to identify patients with significant injuries. Outcomes, particularly after intervention, can be poor, with high rates of long-term disability and mortality.

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