A 72-year-old female participates in a study conducted at The Rubin Institute for Advanced Orthopedics at LifeBridge Health, by strapping on a device that utilizes electromagnetic pulses to potentially reduce inflammation in the knee.
Margaret Friesl wears the device for 90 minutes twice a day, so researchers can determine if it is capable of promoting cartilage production and reducing inflammation associated with arthritis.
That particular study requires older people, who are more likely to suffer with arthritis. However, researchers struggle to find seniors that are willing to volunteer for medical trials.
“Older people are disproportionately affected by a lot of diseases that are being studied, but they are not a part of the research,” said Susan Peschin, president and CEO of the Alliance for Aging Research.
Clinical trials are a primary requirement for determining whether a specific treatment, device or medicine is effective and safe. For studies involving treatments for aging-associated conditions and diseases, participation by seniors is extremely important because they allow the treatment to be adjusted specifically for seniors. Older participants are more representative of the target population, as well.
Clinical trials fail to draw older people. According to study by Tufts University, 11 percent of clinical trials never enroll a single patient and 37 percent fail to meet enrollment goals.
Previous studies reveal that over half of the people diagnosed with cancers are 65 years old or older, but only 25 percent of clinical trials that examine the disease are capable of drawing people for that particular age group.
A short film by the Alliance for Aging Research brings awareness to the problem, while trying to encourage older people to volunteer for medical research.
There are many reasons why seniors do not participate in clinical trials. Either the likely senior candidates were not aware or do not know how to participate in the trials. Other potential issues may include lack of transportation and distrust for the health system.
Many trials have very strict criteria, which automatically eliminates seniors. It is not unusual for researchers to prefer elderly with other diseases because it complicates the process, making it harder to decipher the study results. Many elder people suffer from a variety of chronic illnesses.
Researchers find utilizing older patients may require them to extend the study period and expand the pool of participants.
The Baltimore VA Medical Center has a unique program that is dedicated specifically to geriatric research, where nearly 20 such trials are underway. The VA utilizes numerous methods to encourage senior involvement.
To avoid transportation problems, the researchers will either conduct the studies in the seniors’ homes or pick them up. All follow-up visits are conducted in participants’ homes.