Spinal Cord Injuries and Older Adults

file0002014909352When an older adult suffers a spinal cord injury (SCI), is it more difficult to recover? According to a recent news release from UC San Diego Health, a new study conducted by researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and the University of British Columbia suggests that “age diminishes ability to regenerate axons, the brain’s communication wires in the spinal cord.” In other words, as we age, it may be increasingly difficult to recover from SCI.

Impact of Age on the Central Nervous System

As the news release notes, more Americans aged 65 and older are continuing to engage in active lifestyles. However, this shift in lifestyles for the aging population means that seniors are at greater risk of sustaining serious personal injuries, including SCIs. The researchers involved in the study wanted to determine whether the older adults who do suffer spinal cord injuries are at greater risk of remaining debilitated—and not able to recover fully—after an accident happens.

What the researchers found, in short, is that age does have an impact on the reparative abilities of the central nervous system. According to Binhai Zheng, the senior author of the study, “this is the first report focusing on the impact age has on axonal regeneration in the central nervous system.” Zheng explained that his research could have implications that reach beyond spinal cord injuries, too. Numerous “central nervous system diseases and disorders are age-related and are increasingly occurring in older populations,” Zheng detailed. As such, findings concerning the central nervous system’s “dysfunction and restoration” might help physicians to better determine courses of action for diseases and injuries impacting older adults.

For those of us without medical training, it can be difficult to understand exactly what it means when a researcher finds that age impact the body’s ability to regenerate axons, and thus to repair SCI damage. Zheng provides a helpful analogy: “in older adults, axons are traveling through what is more like rocky, unpaved roads rather than smooth highways—it takes a lot more effort.”

Spinal Cord Injury Facts and Figures

The recent study published in the peer-reviewed journal Cell Reports suggests the increased difficulty of recovery after a spinal cord injury if you are among the aging population. But what else should you know about SCIs? A fact sheet from the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center (NSCISC) provides some important facts and figures:

  • About 12,000 new cases of spinal cord injury occur each year.
  • Between 238,000 and 332,000 persons currently are living with SCI.
  • SCIs typically affect young adults most often, but the average age has risen in recent years.
  • As of 2010, the median age at the time of injury is nearly 43 years old.
  • More than 80% of SCI victims are males.

What are the primary causes of SCI? The NSCISC reports the following as the most common causes of SCI since 2010:

  • Car accidents (36.5 %);
  • Falls (28.5%);
  • Violence (14.3%); and
  • Sports (9.2$).

If you or someone you love suffered a catastrophic injury, you may be able to file a claim for compensation. An experienced San Diego spinal cord injury attorney can help. Contact the Walton Law Firm today for more information.

See Related Blog Posts:
Spinal Cord Injury Breakthroughs: Fact or Fiction?
Auto Accident Leaves Cyclist with Spinal Cord Injury

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