Elderly Persons

Paul S. Mueller and C. Christopher Hook

The number of elders living in the U.S. is rapidly growing. Elders are uniquely burdened with illnesses and account for most deaths. In order to reduce morbidity and mortality experienced by elders, research involving elderly human subjects is needed. Contemporary codes of ethics and regulations governing research involving human subjects derive from the ethical principles of respect for persons, beneficence and justice. Investigators conducting research involving elders should be familiar with and adhere to these general ethical principles. In addition, investigators should acknowledge and address the potential ethical challenges of research involving elderly persons. These challenges include obtaining adequate informed consent by conveying sufficient information and ensuring subject voluntariness and decision-making capacity. Research involving elders with impaired decision-making capacity is especially challenging. In this chapter, the history of human subjects research, the general ethical principles of research, and ethical challenges specifically associated with conducting research involving elders are discussed. In addition, an approach to these challenges and a list of resources for investigators engaged in research involving elders are described.

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