Dear Savvy Senior: What can you tell me about clinical trials and how to go about finding one? — Old and Ill
Dear Old: Each year, hundreds of thousands of Americans participate in clinical trials in hopes of gaining access to the latest, and possibly greatest, but not yet on the market treatments for all types of illnesses. But, clinical trials can vary greatly, so be careful to choose one that can benefit you.
A clinical trial is the scientific term for a test or research study of a drug, device or medical procedure using people. These trials — sponsored by drug companies, doctors, hospitals and the federal government — are conducted to learn whether a new treatment is safe and if it works. These new treatments are unproven, so there may be risks.
All clinical trials have eligibility criteria (age, gender, health status, etc.). Before taking part in a trial, you’ll be asked to sign an informed consent agreement. You can leave a study at any time.
Find a trial
There are more than 100,000 clinical trials conducted annually in the U.S. To find one, ask your doctor or look for them at ClinicalTrials.gov. This website, sponsored by the National Institutes of Heath, contains a comprehensive database of federally- and privately-supported clinical studiesworldwide. It includes information about each trial’s purpose, who may participate, locations and contact phone numbers.
Or try ResearchMatch.org, a resource created by Vanderbilt University that connects willing patients with researchers of clinical trial. The Center for Information and Study on Clinical Research Participation (CISCRP.org) is a nonprofit organization that will take your information online or over the phone and search for trials you, and mail or email you the results within two weeks. Call 877-633-4376.
Those with dementia and their caregivers can locate clinical trials at the Alzheimer’s Association TrialMatch at TrialMatch.alz.org.
What to know
Before deciding to participate in a trial, discuss it with your doctor. Then, schedule an appointment with the study’s medical team and ask lots of questions, such as:
>> What’s the purpose of the study and can it improve my condition?
>> What are the risks?
>> What kinds of tests and treatments does the study involve, and how often and where they are performed?
>> Is the experimental treatment in the study being compared with a standard treatment or a placebo?
>> Who’s paying for the study? Will I have any costs, and if so, will my insurance plan or Medicare cover the rest?
>> What if something goes wrong during or after the trial and I need extra medical care? Who pays?
For more information on clinical trials for older adults, visit the National Institute on Aging (nia.nih.gov/health/clinical-trials), which has many informative articles including one on questions to ask before participating in a clinical trial.
Jim Miller is a contributor to NBC-TV’s “Today” program and author of “The Savvy Senior.” Send your questions to Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070; or visit savvysenior.org.