One-quarter of patients who regularly take prescription medications are over 65. However, clinical trials severely underrepresent this age group. Unfortunately, this is no oversight. Ageism in clinical trials is an unfortunate reality. The International Longevity Center reports that people over the age of 75 are “explicitly excluded” from participating in 40% of clinical trials. These trials evaluate not only the effectiveness and safety of medications, also treatments. Eliminating older patients from these assessments has the potential to result in improper treatment strategies and dosages, as well as overlooked drug interactions.
Facts and Figures
Heart disease is a major cause of death in older populations. Despite this fact, less than 2% of people over 75 were included in clinical trials for unclogging blocked arteries. Worse, trials for advanced heart disease treatments did not include any patients over 65. In treatment trials for cancer – a disease where age is a significant risk factor – the number of patients 65 and up was extremely low. In breast cancer treatment trials alone, the number of participants over 65 was a mere 9%. This is a shocking statistic, given that more than 50% of diagnosed women are over 65.
Why is Ageism So Prevalent?
Why do these statistics exist? Will this exclusion from medical trials hurt our older population?
There are several reasons for this trend. The first: medical practitioners – including 50% of oncologists – consider older patients to be “ineligible” for participation based on age alone. Another reason for ageism in clinical trials is that coexisting medical issues automatically make a person ineligible. True, varying factors can wreak havoc on the results of a controlled trial, but most patients who ultimately receive treatment will likely have multiple medical concerns. Another reason for this ageism: situation. Doctors deem some older patients ineligible for participation due to distance, inability to travel, and other related costs.
Taking a Stand
Designing trials specifically for the elderly would help alleviate this discrepancy. Quite simply, there is no way to determine how a new treatment will react with an untested population. This includes those with other pre-existing conditions. Prescribing untested drugs among the 65+ community leads to incorrect dosages, poor reactions, and other dangerous problems. Regardless of the reasons, eliminating any age group can have unintended consequences. This is particularly true for the older population who take the most medications and have the most health problems.
It is important to include all age groups in clinical trials. The medical community must make this effort to provide the safest and best healthcare to patients of all generations.
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