How the elderly’s exemption from clinical trials could be damaging their healthcare

There are concerns amongst many leading geriatricians about a lack of research into the causes and treatment of ill health in older people. Too often, doctors have to rely on data collected in studies of younger subjects. It may not be possible to accurately extrapolate the findings to the older generation and this could mean that they miss out on vital treatments.

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Geriatricians have found that it can be very difficult to find medical evidence supporting one treatment regime over another. This leaves them relying on personal experience and guesswork which is not acceptable in the 21st century.

If more studies were carried out using elderly subjects, the findings would be directly relevant to their health care needs.

Gradual improvement

There are signs that the situation is gradually improving. According to guidance from the National Institutes of Health (the United States leading medical research agency), researchers now have to explain on grant applications how they intend to include people of all ages including the elderly where appropriate.

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Paediatricians have also been concerned about children taking medication that has only been tested on adults and the National Institutes of Health policy changes are seen as a step in the right direction. However, a large proportion of medical research is funded by private companies and so it will not be affected. It is clear that more than simply eliminating age limits is necessary.

A cultural shift in the way in which medical research is approached is needed. Only then will older participants be correctly represented in Paid Research Studies.

Why are there so few studies of elderly subjects?

Even when there is no upper age limit for participants in paid research studies, it is not easy to recruit older people and that is why younger subjects are used.

Older people may be less inclined to want to participate in studies that require activities such as urine collection or monitoring of bowel habits because of embarrassment and practical difficulties. Also, many studies require the subjects to be fit and healthy and free from chronic diseases. Because chronic disease such as diabetes is more prevalent in older people, it is harder to find a healthy older person for the trial. Furthermore, subjects who have a limited life expectancy or cognitive impairment are often excluded.

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