Falling down a flight of stairs: The impact of age and intoxication on injury pattern and severity

Falling down the stairs is a common cause of traumatic brain injury (TBI) and other full-body injuries. Although falls down the stairs is a significant cause of injury across all age groups, research suggests that young intoxicated people and elderly people are at the highest risk. Unfortunately, clinicians may struggle to treat injuries sustained after a fall down the stairs because important information (such as the height and incline of the staircase) is often unavailable. To fill gaps in knowledge related to injury and falls down the stairs, researchers are investigating the ways in falling down stairs is related to age, injury pattern, injury severity, and other factors.

A group of researchers in the United Kingdom collected trauma registry data from 481 adults who had sustained injuries after falling down a flight of stairs. They analyzed the data for demographic factors like age and gender, and compared these data to information about each patient’s injury patterns, injury severity, and level of intoxication at the time of the fall. They found that:

  • Older patients were more likely to sustain full-body injuries than younger patients. Their injuries also tended to be more severe.
  • Intoxicated patients were typically young men. These patients were less likely to sustain injuries to the abdomen and pelvis than were sober patients.
  • Intoxicated patients were significantly more likely to experience a TBI or a neck injury after falling down the stairs.

Although people of all age groups can and do sustain injuries from falling down the stairs, older and younger populations experience different kinds of injuries and for different reasons. While older patients are more likely to experience severe full-body injuries after falling down the stairs, younger patients are more likely to fall as a result of intoxication and are more likely to sustain a TBI. Both age and level of intoxication should be considered when assessing and treating patients who have fallen down a flight of stairs.

Chatha H, Sammy I, Hickey M, et al. Falling down a flight of stairs: The impact of age and intoxication on injury pattern and severity. (July 2018).


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