Getting in and out of cars risky for seniors

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Older people should be careful when getting into cars, and even more so when getting out, a new analysis of national injury data shows.

An estimated 37,000 people 65 and older are injured each year when entering or exiting a vehicle, Dr. Ann M. Dellinger of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and her colleagues found. About 40 percent of these injuries were due to falls.

“I think it’s important for people to be aware that there is a fall risk of getting into and out of a vehicle,” Dellinger told Reuters Health. People 65 and older were more likely to be hospitalized as a result of these falls than younger individuals, she added.

The US population is getting older, Dellinger and her colleagues note in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Meanwhile, the percentage of older adults with valid driver’s licenses is on the rise, and seniors are spending more time on the road and logging more miles.

Both factors suggest that injuries entering and exiting cars, especially falls, could be a growing problem, the researchers add. To investigate, they looked at data for 2001 to 2003 from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System-All Injury Program, which gathers injury data from 66 emergency rooms around the country.

The sample included 14,774 people of all ages who were injured getting out of or into a vehicle. People 65 and older were 10 times more likely to be hospitalized for these injuries than younger people, and women were significantly more likely to be hospitalized than men. Injuries were more than twice as likely to occur when a person was getting out of a vehicle than when he or she was entering the vehicle.

Falls don’t have to be an inevitable consequence of aging, Dellinger emphasized in an interview. “It’s important for people to know that there are absolutely some things they can do to prevent their risk of falls,” she said.

There are four key steps people can take to protect themselves, she continued: exercising regularly; having a health professional review the medications they are taking; getting their vision checked; and making their home safer. “All of those things are effective fall protection interventions,” she said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers more information on fall prevention at

SOURCE: Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, April 2008.