A study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine shows that many older patients are excluded from participating in clinical trials, despite the fact that older adults often use a larger share of medical services.

To reach these conclusions, researchers identified 109 clinical trials and reviewed facts such as their age eligibility, average age of study population, exclusion criteria, and the frequency, characteristics, and methodology of age-specific subgroup analysis. From the data, the researchers concluded that 20.2% of the trials excluded patients above a specified age.  The data also showed that almost half (45.6%) of the remaining trials excluded individuals using criteria that could disproportionately impact older adults, such as living in a nursing home, having a physical disabilities or an existing medical condition.   In fact, only one in four trials (26.6%) examined outcomes that are considered highly relevant to older adults, such as health status or quality of life.

In a New York Times article, Dr. Donna M. Zulman, the paper’s lead author, explains that “including older patients with complicated conditions in clinical trials may make the trials more expensive and difficult to carry out.”  However, she explained that “the population in a clinical trial should reflect the population that will be treated in the real world,” otherwise, “we’re conducting large, expensive trials, and we can’t be certain whether the results apply to typical older patients, who are some of our most vulnerable and complicated patients.”

For more information:

The New York Times

Journal of General Internal Medicine