Every year in the UK, 1200 people become paralysed as a result of spinal cord injury. Whilst spinal cord injury can be caused by a number of different things such as trauma following a road traffic accident or infection leading to nerve damage, one of the current leading causes of spinal cord injury in the UK is traumatic injury arising from falls.
This is particularly so in respect of elderly individuals. 74% of all new spinal cord injuries in individuals aged 70 and over are caused following a fall. As a population we are all living longer, with some commentators suggesting that if current trends continue, babies being born today could live to 100. More than 20% of the population in the UK are now over 60. Over the last 25 years the percentage of the population aged 65 and over has risen from 15% to around 20%, a rise of around 1.7 million people. The population aged 65 and over is expected to rise to around 23% by 2034. Whilst advances in medicine have extended our longevity, elderly people may be particularly at risk of sustaining a spinal cord injury for a number of reasons. Degenerative conditions such as osteoarthritis may leave the spine vulnerable to injury following a fall and other conditions such as stroke, dementia or deterioration in eye sight may also make a fall more likely.
However it is not only the elderly that are affected. Young people, between the ages of 16 and 30, account for around 50% of all new spinal cord injuries in the UK. Among younger people, a common cause of spinal cord injury is as a result of accidents in the workplace. Slips, trips and falls are the leading cause of injury in the workplace, and such accidents can subsequently lead to a serious spinal cord injury where there is a fracture of the vertebrae surrounding the spinal cord. Accidents such as these are more likely to affect young men, with men accounting for 75% of those currently living with a spinal cord injury in the UK.
Whichever way a spinal cord injury has been caused, early rehabilitation and support is essential. Research conducted by the Multidisciplinary Association of Spinal Cord Injury Professionals (MASCIP) has suggested that during the acute stage of rehabilitation, the elderly are at a disadvantage. It was considered that the perception of some treatment providers as to the quality of life afforded to elderly patients following such an injury may affect the care that is actually provided to them when compared with younger patients. MASCIP has suggested that further education for treatment professionals is necessary in this regard to ensure that all those individuals suffering from a spinal cord injury receive adequate care in the early stages of their recovery, regardless of their age.
Whilst the mechanism of a spinal cord injury may not seem important initially, the implications as to whether or not the injury was caused as a result of the negligence of a third party can be dramatic. With an aging population the pressure being placed upon the welfare system in this country is already significant. In a situation where someone else is to blame for the accident, such as following an accident at work, there may be the potential to pursue a personal injury claim for compensation. This can have the advantage of allowing the injured person access to interim payments at an early stage following injury to assist in their recovery and minimise the need to rely on the state to meet their needs. Interim Payments can provide funding for much needed care, rehabilitation equipment and adaptations that can serve to make life with a spinal cord injury easier by providing the person with greater independence. This can have a great impact on an individual’s quality of life and hopefully enable that person to see that life can go on following a spinal cord injury.
In situations where the injury has not been caused by the negligence of a third party, such as following a fall at home, the injured person will likely be reliant on the state to fund any necessary treatment or adaptations. The process for obtaining such funding can often be slow and arduous because of a serious lack of resources, preventing the injured person from accessing vital services to assist them in their recovery following a spinal injury. Such delays can have a negative impact on both an individual’s physical and psychological recovery. Organisations such as SIA are skilled in supporting those newly injured through this maze and should be contacted for information and support at the first available opportunity.