Q:  What are clinical trials — and is there really a benefit to joining one?

A:  What we’re really talking about is clinical research, the performance of medical studies that involve people. The National Institutes of Health identify two types: observational studies and clinical trials.

Not surprisingly, observational studies “observe” people in normal settings. Researchers group volunteers according to broad characteristics, gather information and compare changes over time. For example, researchers may collect data through medical tests or questionnaires about a group of older adults, to learn more about the effects of different lifestyles on cognitive health. Results from observational studies may advance new possibilities for clinical trials.

Clinical trials are research studies with people, aimed at evaluating a medical, surgical, or behavioral intervention. They are the primary way that researchers find out if a new treatment (like a new drug or diet or medical device) is safe and effective in people. Often, a clinical trial is used to learn if a new treatment is more effective or has less harmful side effects than the standard treatment.

A clinical trial may look at how to make life better for people living with a life-threatening disease or a chronic health problem. Some clinical trials examine ways to discover early disease before the onset of symptoms. Others test ways to prevent a health problem entirely.

When I meet with someone and mention clinical trials, they often ask me why they should consider participating. There are many different reasons! Some people join a trial because treatments for their health problem have not worked. Others participate because there is no treatment for their health problem. These participants may gain access to new treatments before they become widely available. Some studies are designed for healthy people who want to help prevent a disease common in their family. Other people say they just want to help researchers learn more about certain health problems.

Whatever the motivation, when you choose to participate in a clinical trial, you become a partner in scientific discovery, and can help future generations lead healthier lives. Major medical breakthroughs could not happen without the generosity of clinical trial participants—young and old, healthy and sick, male and female.

In Brevard, two organizations are conducting clinical trials: Merritt Island Medical Research and ClinCloud Clinical Research. Along with Charter Research in Orlando, these research groups are striving to advance medicine for human health. Learn more by attending a free seminar at One Senior Place or calling 321-751-6771.

One Senior Place is a marketplace for resources and provider of information, advice, care and on-site services for seniors and their families. Questions for this column are answered by professionals in nursing, social work, care management and in-home care. Send questions to, call 321-751-6771 or visit One Senior Place, The Experts in Aging.

Lisa Conway is a Registered Nurse and a Certified Care Manager for Senior Partner Care Services, Viera.