Epidemiology: friend or foe?

BMJ 2004; 329 doi: (Published 19 August 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;329:467
  1. J A H R Claassen, consultant and researcher in geriatric medicine (
  1. University Medical Centre Nijmegen, Nijmegen, Netherlands

    Geriatric research is rapidly growing. Twenty years ago it was nearly impossible to find a trial that included old people. The major subject heading (MeSH) term “aged, 80 and over” wasn't introduced until 1986. But in the past 10 years more than 10 000 randomised controlled trials were published that included this age group.

    Alzheimer's disease is a good example of a geriatric disease that has long been ignored. It took us a while to realise that this devastating and incurable disease is about to become a pandemic. In the past decade we started a frantic search for clues that might lead to its cure. Since no one really knew where to start, we asked our friend epidemiology for help. Large cohorts of elderly people were studied. Epidemiologists looked for correlations, hoping to identify factors associated with a reduced risk of dementia. And with success. They gave us, among others, hormone replacement therapy in women and two groups of drugs, statins and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). …

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