Intended for healthcare professionals

Letters Older people in clinical trials

No more arbitrary upper age limits for clinical research

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: (Published 12 June 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e4040
  1. Marion E T McMurdo, professor of ageing and health1
  1. 1University of Dundee, Ageing and Health, Medical Research Institute, Ninewells Hospital and Medical School, Dundee DD1 9SY, UK
  1. m.e.t.mcmurdo{at}

A multi-faceted approach is needed to end the systematic exclusion of older people from clinical research.1 However, one simple measure could have a major impact—a zero tolerance policy from funders and ethics committees for arbitrary upper age limits. The use of such upper age limits is common, with 33% of papers published in four leading medical journals using explicit exclusions on the basis of age.2 In many instances, researchers opt for an arbitrary upper age limit, without offering a scientific justification for why, for example, a 75 year old would be a suitable research participant but a 76 year old would not.

The Age and Ageing Specialty Group, supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Clinical Research Network Coordinating Centre, has posted a statement on the NIHR public and researcher websites about equity in clinical research regarding the inclusion of older participants. 3 It aims to redress the imbalance of older people in clinical research, not only in the interests of equity, but because of the need to draw on the results of good quality research to inform best practice in the management of our growing older population. Other funders may wish to follow this lead if ageism in clinical research is not to flourish.


Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e4040


  • Competing interests: METMcM is chair of the NIHR age and ageing specialty research group.


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