- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 5, 2006

At least 1.4 million Americans a year suffer a traumatic brain injury, and nearly four times that number require long-term or lifelong assistance, a new federal study has found.

Researchers with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) determined that the leading causes of traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) are falls and car accidents, according to the study, published in the current issue of the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Those who are 75 or older are hospitalized for TBIs related to falls three times more often than people in any other age group, while those in their teens and early 20s are two times more likely than those in other age groups to be hospitalized for such injuries.

“The elderly have more inherent risks. They have concurrent conditions, which make them more prone to falls and car crashes … and they stand to have more substantial injuries” in such accidents, said Dr. Victor Coronado of the CDC’s Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

“It is not a new finding” that seniors who fall are at the greatest risk for serious TBIs; however, such injuries among the elderly “will not decrease over time” because of the sharp rise in that population, said Dr. Coronado, who was an author of the report.

The federal analysis showed that, overall, men are nearly at twice the risk for hospitalization from brain injuries as women. Among people 65 or older, men were far more likely than women to be hospitalized with TBIs from both unintentional falls and motor vehicle crashes.

About 50,000 Americans die of TBIs each year, while 235,000 are hospitalized and survive, according to the report. Between 80,000 and 90,000 of the survivors are left with major disabilities requiring long-term or permanent help.

The CDC researchers found that TBI hospitalization rates varied significantly among the 12 states that participated in the study. The highest rate — 96.9 per 100,000 — was in Arizona; the lowest — 50.6 per 100,000 — was in Nebraska.

There were some bright spots in the report. Nearly two-thirds of the more than 74,500 TBI patients hospitalized in the 12 states in 2002 were discharged without the need for subsequent health care assistance.

Another favorable finding, researchers said, was the “apparent decline” in the TBI hospitalization rate between the mid-1990s and 2002. Estimates from the 1994-95 National Hospital Discharge Survey put the rate at 98 per 100,000. The new research found a rate of 79 per 100,000 in 2002.

Despite the decline, TBIs “continue to be a substantial public health problem” and “impose substantial demands on the U.S. health care system,” the authors concluded.

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