The care and equipment costs for each person with spinal cord injury after hospitalisation are:

  • $284,000 per ventilator-dependent tetraplegic individual per year
  • $197,000 per non-ventilator-dependent tetraplegic individual per year

These figures allow for attendant care and equipment only and do not include medical or ancillary treatment (Cripps, 2006a, p1). Nationally, half a billion dollars is spent overall on people with spinal cord injury, again not including medical/hospital bills and ancillary care (Cripps, 2006a, p1).

It must be remembered that, due to the areas which are left out of these costings, it is likely that each person with spinal cord injury actually costs the community more per year than these figures indicate. These costings do not include medical check-ups, further rehabilitation costs, medical visits for common complaints such as bladder infections, bowel problems, pressure sores, etc. Each person with a spinal cord injury will need to revisit the doctor after the initial care has been completed – at least on an annual basis. These costings do not include these types of visits, making the costs of caring for a person with spinal cord injury significantly greater.

As explained, the higher the level of injury, the more movement is lost. Furthermore, the more movement that is lost, the more costly it is for the individual to be looked after, as shown by the cost figures above. To illustrate the cost and to give an indication of how many people sustain which type of injury, the following graph showing the neurological level is given:

Figure 4.1: Incidence of persisting SCI from traumatic cases by neurological level at discharge; Australia 2004-05 (percentages).

Cripps, R, 2006b, “Spinal cord injury, Australia 2004-05”, Australian Institute of Health & Welfare, Canberra, AIHW Cat.no. INJAT77

The graph shows that the highest proportion of injuries occur at the C4-C5 cervical segments (which results in tetraplegia), also the most costly to care for; with the next highest proportion at the T12 segment (which results in paraplegia).

Longevity costs

The fact that the lowest age group reported on (15-24 years) represented the largest majority of spinal cord injury in both years’ results in a large economic burden over their lifetime. The survival rates of those with spinal cord injury are relatively identical as those without spinal cord injury with the 1 year survival rate for people who sustain spinal cord injuries being 99% for age and gender when compared to the rest of the population and at 10 years, the survival rate only reduces to 92% (O’Connor, 2005b, p42).

Therefore, the survival rate is very similar to those without spinal cord injuries. This longevity of people with spinal cord injury being approx the same of those without spinal cord injury points to the fact that the care burden over a person’s lifetime will be very large. For example: $200,000 per year over 70 years is 14,000,000, for one person’s care, excluding medical and ancillary costs.

References for statistics
Cripps, R, 2006a, “Spinal cord injury, Australia 2003-04”, Australian Institute of Health & Welfare, Canberra, AIHW Cat.no. INJAT77.
Cripps, R, 2006b, “Spinal cord injury, Australia 2004-05”, Australian Institute of Health & Welfare, Canberra, AIHW Cat.no. INJAT77.
O’Connor, P, 2005, “Survival after Spinal Cord Injury in Australia”, Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Vol 86, January 2005.

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