As Australia's population gets older, increasing numbers of older people are being admitted to public and private hospitals as a result of an injury. This report describes the causes of hospitalised injury for Australians aged 65 and over. It may be useful for guiding and improving policy aimed at reducing the number of injuries experienced by older people and for targeting investment in injury prevention strategies.

Key findings about injury in older Australians

  • There were approximately 126,000 injury cases among older Australians requiring an admission to hospital in 2011-12.
  • The rate for women (4,252 cases per 100,000 population) was nearly one-third higher than the rate for men (3,235 cases per 100,000 population).
  • The rate of injury increased in line with increasing age.
  • Length of stay in hospital averaged 7.6 days for Australian women aged 65 and over compared with 6.8 days for men.

Key findings about external causes of injury in older Australians

The leading external causes of unintentional injury in 2011-12 were falls (77%), inanimate mechanical forces (6%), transport crashes (5%), animate mechanical forces or venomous bites and stings (2%) and poisoning by pharmaceuticals (1%).

There were approximately 96,000 cases of hospitalised falls injury. The rate increased with increasing age.

Striking or being struck by an object (30%) was the most common cause of hospitalised injury due to inanimate mechanical forces, followed by contact with tools and machinery. For the latter group, more than half of the male injury cases were due to powered hand tools such as saws and grinders.

Roughly equal numbers of older men (3,228) and women (2,941) sustained a transport-related injury. However, women were more likely than men to have been injured while in a car (63% versus 46%), as a pedestrian (18% versus 13%) or on a bus (7% versus 3%). Conversely, women were less likely than men to have been injured while using a motorcycle (1% versus 9%) or a pedal cycle (5% versus 14%).

Bites or being struck by dogs, cats, cattle, and horses were the most common causes of hospitalisation among older Australians due to animate mechanical forces.

Medications used to treat diabetes and manage pain were the most common drugs reported in cases of unintentional poisoning by pharmaceuticals for older Australians in 2011-12. The rates of poisoning were similar for men and women, increasing from a low of approximately 25 cases per 100,000 population at ages 65-69 to approximately 95 cases per 100,000 population at age 85 and over.

Over four-fifths of hospitalisations for intentional self-harm among older Australians in 2011-12 involved pharmaceutical drugs, most commonly benzodiazepines.