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Overview of burn injury in older patients

Tam N Pham, MD
Section Editor
Marc G Jeschke, MD, PhD
Deputy Editor
Kathryn A Collins, MD, PhD, FACS


The incidence of burn injuries in older adults is increasing as the age of the population increases in many countries throughout the world. The age cutoff that defines an older adult has been anywhere from ≥45 to ≥80 years in the prior literature, although aging is a continuous process influenced by the individual's lifestyle and comorbidities [1,2].

Older adults are also more prone to burn injury and are more likely to develop complications after injury. Patients ≥60 years old currently comprise 14 percent of patients admitted to burn centers in the United States [3]. Treatment outcomes are worse compared with younger adults.

The incidence, physiologic factors, and challenges associated with managing burn injuries in older patients are reviewed here. General management of burn injuries for the broad adult population is reviewed separately and provided in the linked topics below. (See "Overview of the management of the severely burned patient".)


Many factors predispose the older adult to burn injury. Some of these include smoking, limited mobility and slower reaction time, sensory impairment, decreased coordination, side effects of medication, and cognitive decline [4]. (See "Epidemiology of burn injuries globally".)

In economically developed countries, such as the United States (US), burns in older patients comprise up to 20 percent of burns [5]. Adults aged ≥60 years also suffer a disproportionately higher percentage of hospitalizations due to burns in comparison with the general population [6,7]. A prospective study from Egypt between 1995 and 2001 found that burns in older adults represented 2.3 percent of all treated burns but 7.1 percent of all hospital admissions related to burns, in an area where older adults comprised only 5.8 percent of the total population [6]. Burns among older adults are less common in other developing countries, accounting for less than 5 percent of burns in Southeast Asian and Middle Eastern countries [5].

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: May 19, 2017.
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