Traumatic Injuries Bring Senior Boomers to the ER

Cross-country biker Bob Ostrowe has resumed cycling after a 2006 crash.
Cross-country biker Bob Ostrowe has resumed cycling after a 2006 crash.

“Hope I die before I get old,” rocker Pete Townsend wrote in “My Generation,” a song that became an anthem for baby boomers. Now that most boomers are getting old, emergency room staffers are faced with a new phenomenon: Senior citizens are the second fastest-growing segment of trauma patients.

Every day, adventure-loving seniors take to their bicycles, motorcycles or ATVs and end up in emergency rooms with traumatic injuries. Accidents such as these often lead to traumatic brain and spinal cord injury, or death.

Dr. John Morris, professor of surgery and biomedical informatics, doesn’t even refer to traumatic injuries as accidents, but rather as diseases associated with high-risk behaviors.

“The rise in senior trauma really isn’t all that surprising,” says Morris, who is chief of the Division of Trauma and Surgical Critical Care at Vanderbilt University Hospital. “While falls are commonly the culprit, we’re also seeing a rise in activity-based trauma among baby boomers. We’re living longer and remaining active longer. But we’re still aging, resulting in slower reflexes and less agility.”

Cross-country biking enthusiast Bob Ostrowe, for example, was 64 when he crashed his bike on Memorial Day weekend in 2006. Once paramedics arrived he was already experiencing the signs of traumatic brain injury and, possibly, spinal cord injury. MRIs revealed severe frontal lobe injury.

After a long uphill climb, Ostrowe has recovered, and is cycling again, though at a slower pace. A significant part of his recovery included months of physical therapy, which is often neglected by patients and families who just want to get back to their lives.

“Once we’ve solved the immediate crisis, the key to a successful recovery is rehabilitation and a strong support network,” says Morris. “Without it we know the results will be dramatically different.”

Vanderbilt’s Division of Trauma partnered with the American Trauma Society in implementing the Trauma Survivors Network, which offers a variety of free services and resources.

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