The Whole is Greater Than the Sum of its Parts: GCS Versus GCS-Motor for Triage in Geriatric Trauma

Andrew–Paul P. Deeb*, Heather M. Phelos, Andrew B. Peitzman, Timothy R. Billiar, Jason L. Sperry, Joshua B. Brown

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Background: Trauma field triage matches injured patients to the appropriate level of care. Prior work suggests the Glasgow Coma Scale motor (GCSm) is as accurate as the total GCS (GCSt) and easier to use. However, older patients present with higher GCS for a given injury, and as such, it is unclear if this substitution is advisable. Our objective was to compare the GCS deficit patterns between geriatric and adult patients presenting with severe traumatic brain injury (TBI), as well as the diagnostic performance of the GCSm versus GCSt within the field triage criteria in these populations. Materials and Methods: We conducted a retrospective, observational cohort study of patients ≥16 y in the National Trauma Data Bank 2007–2015. GCS deficit patterns were compared between adults (16-65) and geriatric patients (>65). Measures of diagnostic performance of GCSt≤13 versus GCSm≤5 criteria to predict trauma center need (TCN) were compared. Results: In total, 4,480,185 patients were analyzed (28% geriatric). Geriatric patients more frequently presented with non–motor–only deficits than adults (16.4% versus 12.4%, P < 0.001), and these patients demonstrated higher severe TBI (40.3% versus 36.7%, P < 0.001) and craniotomy (5.8% versus 5.1%, P < 0.001) rates. GCSt was more sensitive and accurate in predicting TCN for geriatric patients and had lower rates of undertriage as compared to GCSm. Conclusions: Geriatric patients more frequently present with non–motor–only deficits after injury, and this is associated with severe head injury. Substitution of GCSm for GCSt would exacerbate undertriage in geriatric patients and, thus, the total GCS should be maintained for field triage in geriatric patients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)385-393
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Surgical Research
StatePublished - May 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Geriatric
  • Glasgow Coma Scale
  • Pre–hospital
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Triage


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