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How data linkage can improve the health of older people

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How data linkage can improve the health of older people

When pharmaceutical companies do clinical trials, people over the age of 70 are often excluded.

It’s partly ageism, says Professor Leon Flicker, a geriatric medicine specialist at The University of Western Australia.

But it’s also partly about the practicalities of studying older adults.

“It's because they know that there'll be greater loss to follow up as you get older,” Professor Flicker says.

“People get sick with other things or die from other causes. So it makes the trials more difficult.”

Professor Flicker says failing to have complete follow up of older people in research can lead to bias.

So when University of Western Australia vascular surgeon Professor Paul Norman and population health researcher Professor Konrad Jamrozik set up a study looking at screening for abdominal aortic aneurysms in older men, they turned instead to linked data.

The researchers started with a data set of 41,000 men, randomly assigning half to receive an invitation to be screened for aneurysms.

The men were followed, with their consent, through hospital and mortality data.

“The idea right from the beginning was that the men didn't even have to come back to be assessed again,” Professor Flicker says.

“They could be followed from the linked data system to work out the men who had an abdominal aortic aneurysm problem.”

Professor Flickers says it was “a very powerful way” of using linked data.

The abdominal aortic aneurysm research was so effective it morphed into the Health in Men study, Australia’s longest-running men’s health trial.

The research has followed more than 12,000 men for more than 25 years, and is now exploring ‘extreme longevity’ in men that live to 100.


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