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Comparison of Treatment Effect Estimates for Pharmacological Randomized Controlled Trials Enrolling Older Adults Only and Those including Adults: A Meta-Epidemiological Study

Seegers, Valérie; Trinquart, Ludovic; Boutron, Isabelle; Ravaud, Philippe


Older adults are underrepresented in clinical research. To assess therapeutic efficacy in older patients, some randomized controlled trials (RCTs) include older adults only.


To compare treatment effects between RCTs including older adults only (elderly RCTs) and RCTs including all adults (adult RCTs) by a meta-epidemiological approach.


All systematic reviews published in the Cochrane Library (Issue 4, 2011) were screened. Eligible studies were meta-analyses of binary outcomes of pharmacologic treatment including at least one elderly RCT and at least one adult RCT. For each meta-analysis, we compared summary odds ratios for elderly RCTs and adult RCTs by calculating a ratio of odds ratios (ROR). A summary ROR was estimated across all meta-analyses.


We selected 55 meta-analyses including 524 RCTs (17% elderly RCTs). The treatment effects differed beyond that expected by chance for 7 (13%) meta-analyses, showing more favourable treatment effects in elderly RCTs in 5 cases and in adult RCTs in 2 cases. The summary ROR was 0.91 (95% CI, 0.77–1.08, p = 0.28), with substantial heterogeneity (I2 = 51% and τ2 = 0.14). Sensitivity and subgroup analyses by type-of-age RCT (elderly RCTs vs RCTs excluding older adults and vs RCTs of mixed-age adults), type of outcome (mortality or other) and type of comparator (placebo or active drug) yielded similar results.


The efficacy of pharmacologic treatments did not significantly differ, on average, between RCTs including older adults only and RCTs of all adults. However, clinically important discrepancies may occur and should be considered when generalizing evidence from all adults to older adults.


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February 17, 2017