Should I Participate in Clinical Trials?

clinical trials

What is a clinical trial?

A clinical trial is a research study using human subjects. The goal is to find out if an experimental drug, therapy, medical device, lifestyle change, or test will help treat, find, or prevent a disease. Some trials compare experimental products or tests to currently available options to find out which are safer or more effective.

Why participate in a clinical trial?

Some older adults join trials because the treatments they’ve already tried for their health problem didn’t work. Others participate because there are no treatments available for their health problem. And some are very interested in helping scientists discover medical breakthroughs.

Who do clinical trials help?

Older adults with health problems that have no cure or lack effective treatments could get useful new treatments through a clinical trial. For those situations, the benefits of participating could outweigh the risks. Some of those health conditions include:

  • Alzheimer’s and dementia
  • Parkinson’s
  • Some cancers
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) – Lou Gherig’s Disease
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
  • Macular degeneration
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Cerebral Amyloid Angiopathy (CAA)
  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD)

What are the risks and benefits of a clinical trial?


  • The new treatment could cause serious side effects.
  • The new treatment might not work or it might not be better than the standard treatment.
  • You might NOT be part of the group that actually gets the new treatment
    • You might be part of the control group, which means you get the standard treatment or no treatment at all (a placebo).
    • You won’t be told which group you’re in. Often, the researchers won’t know either.
  • The clinical trial could be inconvenient, requiring multiple appointments or extended stays.


  • The new treatment may relieve symptoms or improve your health problem.
  • You may get a new treatment for a disease before it is available to everyone.
  • Researchers may provide you with medical care and more frequent health check-ups as part of your treatment.
  • You may help others get a better treatment for their health problems in the future.

Bottom line

If your older adult is interested in participating in a clinical trial, make sure they discuss the risks and benefits with their doctor. That way, you can all work together to determine if the trial is worthwhile based on their health situation.

By DailyCaring Editorial Staff
Sources: National Institute on Aging, NIH Senior Health
Image: Singapore General Hospital

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