Wheelchairs grant increased mobility to their users but can result in injuries of varying severities, including fractures which are often associated with wheelchair transfers. However, this fracture burden remains poorly characterized in elderly Americans. The purpose of this study was to report demographic and environmental risk factors for these injuries.
We used data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) for the years 2007-2017 to perform a retrospective, cross-sectional analysis of wheelchair transfer fractures in patients aged 65 years and older.
Each yearly sample in the NEISS database was queried between 2007 and 2017 for fractures associated with wheelchair transfers in patients aged 65 years or older. The narrative sections of the database were individually read and reviewed to identify cases in which a patient explicitly transferred into or out of a wheelchair while sustaining said fracture.
Between 2007 and 2017, the average number of patients aged 65 years and older presenting to US emergency departments was 3924 (95% confidence interval [CI] = 2792-5055). A significantly higher percentage of fractures (61.8%; 95% CI = 56.7%-66.8%) is associated with transferring out of wheelchairs. Moreover, such fractures were often associated with transferring to and from beds (29.9%; 95% CI = 25.4%-34.3%), with the hip (37.5%; 95% CI = 33.3%-41.6%) being the most commonly fractured anatomical region overall. A majority of patients required admission to the hospital (60.2%; 95%CI = 52.4%-68.0%) and most wheelchair transfer fractures occurred at home (44.1%; 95% CI = 36.7%-51.5%), with women (71.9%; 95% CI = 68.3%-75.6%) comprising the majority of these patients.
Our findings show that wheelchair transfers are associated with significant risk of severe fracture in elderly Americans. As such, wheelchair transfer events merit extra attention from healthcare providers because they comprise a brief window of time relative to the number of occupancy hours in full-time wheelchair users yet can result in significant morbidity and mortality. Preventative measures and patient education should be encouraged to preserve patient mobility and reduce injury.

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