Head Injuries in the Elderly More Dangerous at Weekend

Let’s be honest. There’s never a good time to take a bang to the head. However, a new study gives a clear indication that some days are better than others for getting a knock to the noggin. Or more to the point, some days are much worse!

Researchers from Johns Hopkins have just released details of a their study which indicate elderly people who suffer a head injury and are admitted to a hospital are far more likely to die if that injury occurs at the weekend, rather than during “normal” working days. The findings make for disturbing reading, particularly as there doesn’t seem to be much of anything that could be done to correct the deadly imbalance.

Different operating methods at the weekend

According to the leader of the Johns Hopkins study, epidemiologist Eric Schneider, it’s the way hospitals operate over the weekend, in contrast to the Monday to Friday work week that makes weekend head injuries that extra bit dangerous for elderly victims. Schneider said that from Friday night to Monday morning:

  • Hospitals have reduced staffing levels
  • Fewer specialists—those who could more effectively respond to serious head trauma—are available in hospitals

Schneider said there’s no medical reason for the worrying weekend results, so he concludes that the higher fatality rates must be due to the way hospitals operate over the weekend as opposed to their Monday to Friday systems. He said this points to the fact that hospitals have “a real opportunity” to change how they run themselves over the weekends, and to potentially save lives.

How much worse is it at the weekend?

The comprehensive study looked at the hospital records of more than 38,000 patients in the 65 to 89 age bracket. Each of these patients was admitted to a hospital with some sort of head trauma in the years 2006 through 2008, so the study spanned a full three-year period.

Almost one in every four of the admissions took place over the weekend. Some of the head injuries were considered to be serious, and others less so. The findings indicated that:

  • Elderly patients admitted over the weekend with head injury that was deemed to be a serious injury were 14 percent more likely to die as a result of their injuries than patients in the same age group with virtually identical injuries who were admitted between Monday morning and Friday evening.
  • Perhaps even more concerning were the findings regarding elderly patients admitted over the weekend period with head injuries deemed at admission to be less serious. They were also more likely to die than patients admitted during the week.
  • Finally, and perhaps most alarmingly of all, the study found that elderly patients admitted to the hospital over the weekend were far more likely to die from their injuries, even when they were in better overall health than those patients admitted during the week with similar injuries.

No weekend discount!

The researchers noted that the cost of care to elderly patients being admitted at the weekend was no different to the expenses incurred by weekday patients. What could not be analyzed in the study was the amount of time it took to treat each patient admitted over the weekend as compared with weekday admissions.

The implication was that there may be delays experienced by weekend admissions in being seen by a specialist, even though they paid the same charges as those who were seen and treated more promptly on weekdays. The Johns Hopkins researchers could not verify those suspicions, because they could not differentiate between the patients seen at trauma centers and those admitted to teaching hospitals or community hospitals.

A lesson to be learned

One point of note that the elderly and their families should perhaps be aware of is that additional research has shown a marked decrease in the “fatal weekend effect” for those patients who were taken to Level 1 trauma centers. These emergency medical centers are staffed 24 hours a day by highly trained specialists. If an elderly person suffers a head injury, statistics show one of these trauma centers is the safest place to be.

The study found that an astounding 1.4 million Americans are hospitalized every year with head injuries. It’s unclear how many millions more are injured that don’t go to the hospital who should.

What was also made clear is that head injuries in the elderly are far more dangerous than for any other age group, including very small children and infants. People over the age of 75 account for the greatest number of hospitalizations and deaths associated with head trauma than any other group.

The Johns Hopkins researchers concluded that the only real solution to reversing the “weekend effect” would be for hospitals to sustain the same staffing levels on hand seven days a week. They also accepted, however, that this may be too expensive a prospect for many hospitals to consider.

The very old and the very young are the most vulnerable members of our society. It’s disturbing to think that if an elderly person receives a head injury at the weekend, they are far more likely to die than, for example, if they received the exact same injury on a Tuesday!

Traumatic head injuries in the elderly are frequently the result of a car accident, or a slip and fall, when the elderly person bangs their head off the floor, a shelf or some other hard surface. The results can be devastating and even fatal.

If an elderly person in your family has suffered such an injury through someone else’s negligence or careless behavior, or even because they didn’t receive the treatment they should have in a timely fashion, you should speak to a Portland head injury attorney with experience in this type of case.

They will examine the facts of your case and make a recommendation on how to proceed. The consultation is free, and if you decide to proceed, they will work to get you compensation to cover medical expenses and other damages, including the elderly person’s pain and suffering and decreased quality of life. Make the call and get your questions answered. Then decide how you want to proceed.

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