NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Motorcycle injuries requiring a trip to the hospital have increased in recent years among older male riders, while injury rates for women and younger men haven’t changed, according to a new study from Canada.

The spike in injuries among men over 45 suggests that more male Baby Boomers are taking to two wheels as a leisure activity, and they may need training and other injury prevention strategies, say the researchers.

“We were surprised by the extent of the increase in injuries among older men motorcycle riders,” said Mariana Brussoni of the British Columbia Injury Research and Prevention Unit, who led the study published in the BC Medical Journal.

In British Columbia, “motorcycle injuries among younger men are actually going down, and they’ve remained stable for women, so it’s only older men that are going up,” she told Reuters Health in an email.

In the U.S. between 1998 and 2007, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) statistics, injuries among riders 50 to 59 years old went from 6,000 to 15,000, a 150 percent increase, and among riders over age 60 the number of injuries rose from 2,000 to 8,000, a 300-percent jump.

Brussoni said she and her colleagues wanted to find out whether there was a similar trend among older motorcyclists in British Columbia.

“The idea is not to get older men off their motorbikes, but rather to make sure everything is being done to help them keep themselves safe when they’re riding,” she said.

The researchers looked at British Columbia motorcycle injury data from 2001 to 2010 and found that approximately 37 percent of the men who suffered motorcycle-related injuries were between the ages of 45 and 74.

They also discovered that motorcycle hospitalization rates for men in that age bracket doubled during that period, from 18.4 per 100,000 to 36 per 100,000. In addition, hospitalization costs for older male riders rose by 61 percent, while the hospital costs for younger men didn’t change.

Older men also had higher rates of internal organ injury but were less likely to suffer injuries such as sprains and strains. Older men were also more likely to be injured while riding in rural areas.

The study does not delve into why injury rates have gone up among older BC men, but assumes that the number of older men riding motorcycles in general has risen.

These Baby Boomers may have used motorcycles as inexpensive transportation when they were younger and now see riding as a primarily leisure-time activity, the study team writes in its report.

Brussoni speculates that older men might be finding themselves with more free time due to retirement and their kids leaving home, and more disposable income.

“They may have ridden motorcycles in their youth, or may have always wanted to, so they go out and buy a motorbike,” she said. “They could be buying powerful machines that they may not be adequately prepared to handle.”

Brussoni said age-related changes can influence the ability to handle the machines, such as declines in eyesight, reflexes, flexibility and strength.

“Their bodies are older so when an injury does happen, it is likely to require more time to recuperate than when they were younger,” Brussoni said.

When it comes to preventing injuries, Brussoni said older men should obey all traffic rules. “Over and above that, we don’t actually have strongly evidence-based prevention strategies for older men . . . but in general we would recommend getting the right training, wearing the protective gear, and if needed, making sure they’re riding during daylight hours and in good weather,” Brussoni said.

Brussoni added that it's also the responsibility of other vehicles on the road to be aware of motorcycles. “Their size makes them harder to see and cars need to pay attention and show care too,” Brussoni said.

SOURCE: BC Medical Journal, online October 2, 2014.