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Studies of seniors are funded and ready to prove what we know

Studies are the pre-requisite for product introduction and change. One of the conundrums of our society is that institutional change is typically made possible by the presence of studies cited to verify that the change should be made. These studies can demonstrate that a product is safe until it is proven otherwise. For example, studies of drug efficacy by drug companies (even with overstated favorable outcomes) are the basis of approval and introduction into the market; studies about automobile safety (funded by car manufacturers) have preceded introduction of safety features, and so on. Other studies about older adults, however, raise the question of whether studies are structured (or at least described in the press) to embark on proving that our common sense is, well, sensible. For example:

If a senior walks post-hospitalization, he or she may keep from going back. So up to one in five seniors discharged from the hospital are readmitted. And a new (tiny) study indicates that walking may be a factor in keeping them from going back to the hospital. Hope that study wasn’t heavily funded, because the conclusion appears to be independent of whether seniors post-discharge are taking their medications, keeping their doctors’ appointments, or being contacted by a nurse to verify any of the above. And conversely, as they say, the study didn’t assess the relationship between walking and readmission of non-seniors. 

If a senior drives with a pet, they may be more likely to have an accident. The University of Alabama verified through a study of 2000 seniors that if you’re age 70+ and driving with a pet, a crash is more likely.  Buried in that article from the study author: "The findings are consistent with previous studies looking at all drivers, which indicate that slightly more than half of all drivers take a pet with them at times." And of course, this study set out to prove that seniors are similar to all drivers – capable of being distracted in a car by their pets.  Makes sense.

If an at-risk older adult is offered appropriate support, depression can be prevented. A five-year study launched in 2011 seeks to determine whether support to frail, isolated and/or depressed older adults will have lower risk of complications from costly health conditions if they are offered therapy and preventive care. You might read that and say, yes, but of course! You might be reminded of the 2008 VA study of telehealth which verified that contact with the patient, not just having the device, increased patient satisfaction. These studies – like the CMS innovation grants – are attempting to prove what we think and know -- so that paying for treatments can be justified by more than common sense.  But does anyone ultimately take into account all of the money spent on proving (as with the innovation awards) to CMS that an intervention is worth reimbursement? Maybe that should be studied.


It may be that most research conducted with funds from large companies is honest and of high value. But there's a problem with the vast amount of research funded privately even before the study begins: What gets studied? Food chem/Ag interests are unlikely to fund research on organic diets. Pharma is unlikely to fund research on non-drug interventions like walking. Hospitals are unlikely to underwrite studies on small-scale, neighborhood-based programs for the recently discharged. The simplest, least expensive, and possibly most effective solutions may go unresearched because they have no wealthy corporate advocates.

In my opinion, studies or research can help in understanding aging and seniors. Once you understand the factors that can affect an elderly in a negative or positive way, people can come up with products and services that can help seniors as they age. Also, these studies can prevent accidents from happening and can prolong the lives of seniors. These studies have their pros and cons but for me, this is significant and the key in safeguarding the well-being of seniors and securing their future as well.

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