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Status Report, Vol. 48, No. 4 | May 30, 2013 Subscribe

Older riders more likely to land in hospital after crashes

When older motorcyclists crash, they are nearly 3 times as likely as younger riders to be seriously injured, a new study published in Injury Prevention indicates.

Researchers at Brown University examined patterns of injuries among motorcycle riders ages 20 and older involved in crashes during 2001-08 and treated in hospital emergency rooms. Data were from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System — All Injury Program, a joint venture of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. There were an estimated 1.5 million injuries to adults in motorcycle crashes during the study period. Men sustained 85 percent of the injuries. Information on helmet use, motorcycle size, and crash type and severity was unavailable.

The authors grouped injured motorcyclists by age: 20-39, 40-59 and 60 and older. The number of injuries for all three age groups rose during the study period, but the oldest riders had the sharpest increase, jumping from 4,352 injuries in 2001 to 15,107 in 2008. Bikers in this group also were 3 times as likely to be admitted to a hospital after a crash as riders in their 20s and 30s. Bikers in their 40s and 50s were nearly twice as likely as younger riders to require hospitalization.

Fractures and dislocations were the most common types of injury across all age groups. Older and middle age riders had a higher proportion of upper trunk injuries and fractures than younger riders, particularly chest and rib cage injuries.

Older and middle age riders were more likely to have internal organ injuries than younger riders, who were more likely to sustain less serious contusions/abrasions and strains/sprains. Brain injuries were the most common internal organ injury for every age.

"The greater severity of injuries among older adults may be due to the physiological changes that occur as the body ages," the authors note. Increased incidence of heart disease, diabetes and other health conditions also may lead to worse outcomes.

The findings come as the average age of a motorcycle rider in the U.S. has climbed. In 2009, the typical rider was 41 years old, up from 38 in 1998, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council. While the Brown study didn't focus on fatalities, the number of motorcyclists killed in crashes is increasing. Deaths among motorcycle riders and passengers in 2011 were more than double those in 1997. Older riders make up an increasing proportion of crash deaths. In the early 1980s the proportion of fatally injured motorcyclists 50 and older started to increase, rising from 3 percent of all rider deaths in 1982 to 13 percent in 1997 and to 35 percent in 2011.

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