Dear Savvy Senior,
Can you tell me about clinical trials and how to go about finding one? My husband (who’s 62) was just diagnosed with early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and we are interested in trying anything that may be able to help him. What can you tell me?
More and more older patients are volunteering for clinical trials to gain access to the latest, and possibly greatest, but not yet on the market treatments for all types of serious illnesses. Here’s what you should know.
A “clinical trial” is the scientific term for a test or research study of a drug, device or medical procedure using people. These tests are done to learn whether a new treatment is safe and if it works. But, keep in mind that these new treatments are also unproven ones, so there may be risks too. Also note that all clinical trials have certain eligibility criteria (age, gender, health status, etc.) that you must meet in order to be accepted, and before taking part in a trial, you’ll be asked to sign an informed consent agreement. You can also leave a study at any time you choose. To learn more or to locate an Alzheimer’s disease clinical trial near you, visit the Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral Center at www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers and click on “Clinical Trials” or call 800-438-4380.
Things to Know
Before you decide to participate in a clinical trial (of any kind), schedule an appointment with the study’s medical team and ask lots of questions. Here are a few to help get you started.
· What is the purpose of the study? (You may be surprised to know that many drug or procedural trials are not designed to find a “cure” but to achieve more modest goals, such as to slow down the progression of a disease.)
· Is the trial you are considering best for your situation?
· What advantages does the trial’s experimental treatment offer over existing treatments?
· What are the risks? (Some treatments can have side effects that are unpleasant, serious and even life-threatening.)
· 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? (If you get the placebo, you’ll be getting no treatment at all.)
· Who’s paying for the study? Will you have any costs, and if so, will your insurance plan or Medicare cover the rest? (Sponsors of trials generally pay most of the costs, but not always. Also note that federally funded trials are regulated by the government and insure strict safety guidelines.)
· What if something goes wrong during or after the trial and you need extra medical care? Who pays?
· Can you stay on the treatment after the study is completed? If so, who will pay for the treatment?
Find a Study
To learn about the many different types of clinical trials near you, try these resources:
· National Institutes of Heath: They offer the premier Web resource for locating federally and privately supported clinical studies on a wide range of diseases and conditions. See clinicaltrials.gov.
· National Cancer Institute: Provides cancer specific clinical trials. Go to cancertrials.nci.nih.gov or call 800-422-6237.
· National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine: To find alternative medicine trials visit www.nccam.nih.gov or call 888-644-6226.
· International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations: To locate drug company trials, see ifpma.org.
Savvy Tip: A good resource to help you get more information on clinical trials and how they work is CenterWatch, a Boston-based company that tracks the industry. They also offer several helpful publications including “Volunteering for a Clinical Trial” and “Understanding the Informed Consent Process” ($3 each) which can be ordered online at www.centerwatch.com or by calling 800-765-9647.
Dear Savvy Senior,
Can you provide some fire safety tips for seniors? My elderly parents have had some close calls lately which really worry me. What can you tell me?
Fire Phobic Frank
Each year, more than 4,000 Americans die, and approximately 25,000 more are injured in home fires – and seniors are especially vulnerable. Here’s what you should know.
Senior Fire Prevention
Statistics show that seniors ages 65 and older are three times more likely to die or be injured in a home fire than those younger. But with a little fire safety planning (see www.firesafety.gov), you can help protect your parents. The three most common causes of home fires among the elderly are smoking, cooking and alternative heating devices. Here are some tips that can help.
Careless smoking is the leading cause of home fire deaths in the United States and the second leading cause of injuries among seniors. If your parents smoke, remind them to:
· Never smoke in bed.
· Put their cigarette or cigar out at the first sign of feeling drowsy while watching television or reading. Also note that drinking alcohol or taking medications that make them sleepy (check with their doctor) can add to this problem.
· Use deep ashtrays and put their cigarettes all the way out.
· Don’t walk away from lit cigarettes and other smoking materials.
Cooking fires are the number one cause of fire injuries among the elderly. Some tips to keep in mind are:
· Never leave food cooking on a stove top unattended.
· Keep handles on your pots and pans turned inward.
· Avoid wearing loose clothing with hanging sleeves when you cook and keep towels and pot holders away from flames.
· Double-check the kitchen before going to bed or leaving the house.
· If your parents have trouble remembering to turn the stove off, install an automatic shut-off device. See www.homesensers.com.
Alternative heating devices like space heaters, wood stoves and fireplaces are the second leading cause of fire deaths among seniors. Another concern is that heating devices fueled by gas, oil, kerosene or wood can also produce deadly carbon monoxide gas. If your parents use home heating devices, here are some safety recommendations:
· Space heaters: Space heaters need space, so keep anything that can burn at least three feet away and always turn them off when you leave the house or go to sleep. Also, if you’re buying a new space heater, look for one with a safety feature that automatically shuts off the power if the heater falls over.
· Fireplace: If the fireplace burns wood, be sure they have a glass or metal screen front to catch the flying sparks and rolling logs and have the fireplace and chimney flue inspected annually, and cleaned if needed.
· Kerosene heaters: The use of kerosene heaters is illegal in some communities. Check with the local fire department before you buy one. Also, never use gasoline or any other substitute fuel and when you refuel do it outside and only after the heater has cooled.
Around 75 percent of seniors who die in fires each year don’t have working smoke alarms in their homes, so make a point to install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors on every level of your parent’s house and test them monthly. Here are some additional tips to consider:
· Fire extinguisher: Get them an ABC multipurpose home fire extinguisher and be sure they know how to use it.
· Escape plan: In the event of a fire your parents should know two exit options for each room.
· Candles: Home fires caused by candles have doubled in the last decade. Never leave burning candles unattended.
· Electrical safety: Make sure that electrical outlets are not overloaded, extension cords are not strung under rugs and frayed or worn extension cords are thrown away.
Savvy Tip: The Hartford Group offers a booklet (Shopping Guide to Fire-Safe Products) that lists dozens of great products, including what they cost and where you can buy them. To get a copy visit www.thehartford.com/firesense or write to: The Hartford, Fire Sense, 200 Executive Blvd., Southington, CT 06489.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit www.savvysenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” books.