Catherine James, Helpline Supervisor at Alzheimer’s Society, explains what a ‘clinical trial’ is and how you can take part in vital dementia research studies via Join Dementia Research.
Today, 20 May, is International Clinical Trials day. This day marks the anniversary of the first ever clinical trial, in which Scottish doctor James Lind tested potential cures for scurvy whilst aboard the HMS Salisbury. This trial successfully pointed towards the eventual cure for this condition – vitamin C.
Whilst we no longer need trials to cure scurvy, there are many other conditions that urgently need trials to find a treatment or cure. On top of this list is dementia, as the only one of the top ten causes of death that can’t be prevented, slowed down or cured and is currently on course to be the 21st century’s biggest killer.
Trials for dementia
There have been a number of recent reports discussing the results of trials for potential drugs for dementia. Some have shown promising results in early stages, others have been disappointing failures. Whilst it is always hard to hear that a trial for a potential dementia treatment hasn’t worked, we learn something important from every study and can use these to improve future trials.
We are very grateful to everyone who volunteers their time to take part in a clinical trial, as this is essential for finding the cures and treatments that we urgently need for dementia.
There are a number of trials for dementia recruiting via the Join Dementia Research service. This includes investigating whether existing drugs such as liraglutide (for diabetes) and losartan (for high blood pressure) can help people with Alzheimer’s disease, and the Amaranth trial, which is investigating a new experimental drug.
Demystifying clinical trials
Unless you’ve taken part in one, clinical trials can come across as a bit mysterious. What exactly does a clinical trial entail?
Most trials involve taking either an active drug or a dummy drug (placebo). Who receives the active drug and who receives the placebo is decided randomly. The researchers will then use tests that compare the group taking the active drug to those on the placebo to see if there is any difference between the two groups. These tests could involve regular brain scans or blood tests, or measuring your memory and thinking abilities. The type of drug you take and the frequency that you have to take it will vary from trial to trial. The amount of time trials can take also varies – some will last just a few weeks, others can take several years.
In order to help people to understand what goes on in clinical trials, we have supported the production of a series of videos that shows what many of these tests are like.
Why take part in clinical trials?
Many people who choose to take part in dementia research do so because they value the opportunity to make a difference. For people with dementia, taking part in research often helps them to gain a better understanding of their condition and to have their health monitored more closely. Many find it a very positive experience and feel they are making a worthwhile contribution to the future of dementia care and treatment.
It’s not all taking drugs
Whilst today we are raising awareness about clinical trials, there are many ways to take part in research that don’t involve testing new medications. These could range from filling in a questionnaire, taking part in a focus group or having a blood test.
How do I take part in a research study or clinical trial?
The best way to find out whether there are dementia research studies that you can take part in is to register with Join Dementia Research.
Alternatively, you can call our National Dementia Helpline on 0300 222 11 22 and arrange an appointment with our trained advisors, who will guide you through the process of signing up and how you can take part.