Special Considerations in Research with Elderly

Special Considerations in Research with Elderly
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  • 0:04 Research on Older Adults
  • 1:02 Mental Competency
  • 3:11 Other Considerations
  • 4:41 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Many researchers want to run studies with older adults as participants. But what issues can arise from using elderly subjects in your research? Watch this lesson to find out some of the special considerations from doing research on older adults.

Research On Older Adults

Mel's grandfather has dementia and doesn't recognize Mel when she visits him. This makes Mel sad, but it also makes her want to find a cure for dementia. She's developed a new drug that she thinks might make a good treatment for people like her grandfather, and she wants to do a research study to see if it really works.

Mel is interested in doing research on older adults, usually defined as people over the age of 65. Though her study has the ability to make the world a better place, Mel (like other researchers) also has to keep in mind that there are certain ethical considerations; that is, she has to design her study in a way where her subjects are at the lowest risk for negative effects.

In research on older adults, there are some concerns that are less common in younger adults. Let's look at some of the considerations that Mel, and researchers like her, will have to remember when working with older adults.

Mental Competency

Mel has a drug that's meant to treat patients with dementia. Like other researchers, Mel needs to get permission to use people in her study. But there's a problem: dementia involves problems with memory and thinking skills, and people suffering from it often aren't able to give permission themselves.

Mental competency involves the ability to understand consequences and make an informed decision about an act. In research, a person who is mentally competent is someone who can understand the pros and cons of participating in the study and make a decision about whether they would like to participate or not.

Here's the problem: if a person has dementia or another condition that makes it difficult to understand and make decisions, they might not be able to make an informed decision about whether to participate or not. Since dementia is more common in late adulthood than at other times in life, researchers like Mel, who do research on older adults, are more likely to run into issues of mental competency than those who do research on younger adults.

So, is Mel just out of luck, then? Not exactly. In cases where mental competency is an issue, there are slightly different rules for getting permission for participation. Consent is permission to participate in research and is given by a person with mental competency. In most cases, adults are able to consent to participate for themselves. However, in cases like Mel's research, where older adults are not mentally competent, consent must come from their guardian. Often, this is a family member put in charge of the major decisions involving the patient's life and health care.

But that's not where the story ends. You see, even if Mel gets consent from a guardian, she also has to get assent, which is the agreement to participate by the subject who is not able to give consent; that is, even if a guardian says to Mel, 'Sure, you can do research on so-and-so,' Mel still has to ask and get permission from the subject, too.

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