Flourishing ageing research

James Goodbrand is the Ageing research group administrator goodbrand

Formed in 2009, the Age and Ageing Specialty Group is part of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Clinical Research Network which provides the infrastructure that allows high-quality clinical research to take place in the NHS. It is dedicated to improving the lives of older people by building the profile, quality and activity of UK ageing research by engaging with funders, Age UK, older people and other active and potentially active researchers.

Clinical research needs to become a mainstay in the public eye. This year the NIHR Clinical Research Network conducted a mystery shopper campaign to investigate how well NHS sites promoted research. The campaign revealed that 91% of sites visited had no research information available in public notice areas and 46% were unable to adequately give or direct the mystery shopper to further information. The Mystery Shopper Report is available on the NIHR Clinical Research Network’s website.

In a separate consumer poll, less than 20% of patients and the public would feel confident about approaching their doctor about participating in research. So, much more could be done to engage with patients and the public about research and empower them to take the initiative in finding out about opportunities for getting involved.

Increasing the number of older adults in research is the goal of the Age and Ageing Specialty Group. This involves supporting UK age-related studies on the NIHR Clinical Research Network Portfolio to recruit effectively. 19,500 older adults were recruited to age-related studies in 2013, an astonishing 75% increase from 2012. Older people are disadvantaged when it comes to participating in relevant clinical research as they are often excluded from studies, unjustifiably, on the basis of their age. This despite the fact that older people are now the “core business” of the NHS. To tackle this unacceptable situation, the Age and Ageing Specialty Group issued a joint statement with NIHR Clinical Research Network on the need for equity in research, including the need to end the widespread use of arbitrary upper age cut-offs in many study protocols.

Often researchers are simply unaware how to effectively recruit older people. The group has therefore published a widely cited (including a feature piece in the BMJ) guide on how to recruit older people into clinical research, Improving Recruitment of Older People to Research through Good Practice.

The group has also very successfully lobbied NHS Research Ethics Committees across the UK to encourage them to reject applications proposing the use of arbitrary upper age limits without adequate justification. Another recent initiative has been to incorporate a standard statement into outpatient letters about the possibility of participating in research, across the various NHS trusts.

Older people themselves can play a massive part in the effort to promote research and get more people involved. For example, the Age and Ageing Specialty Group has a very charming and enlightening video of a 78 year old gentleman discussing his experience of taking part in research.

The NIHR Clinical Research Network is currently running a similar campaign to collect people’s own stories about how research has changed their lives, which will then be turned into a series of audio and video shorts in order to raise awareness of the impact of clinical research. For further information about the campaign click here.

If you would like to find out more about the Age and Ageing Specialty Group there are several ways to do so. You can get in touch with the group administrator (details below) or visit our lively website which has plenty more information.

If you are planning to attend the BGS Autumn conference in Harrogate in November 2013 we will be running a group stand which will be located in the exhibition area, thanks to the generosity of the BGS. The group Chair, Prof Marion McMurdo, will be giving a talk (NHS clinicians and research: the final frontier) during the Academic and Research session at the conference on Wednesday 20 November at 4pm, so please come along to that.

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