Elderly Bi-Polar Study

The Houston VA Hospital is taking part in a national study of bi-polar disorder in people over the age of 60. Doctors want to know if two drugs now used to treat this disorder in younger people can also help elderly people. Houston Public Radio's Jim Bell reports.

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The drugs lithium and valproate are widely used to treat bi-polar disorder. Both drugs went through extensive clinical trials before approval, but no one over the age of 60 was in the trials. Dr. Rayan Al Jurdi of the Houston VA hospital says clinical trials never recruit very young or very old people.

"Because they are a more vulnerable population, they are more vulnerable for side effects, they have more complicated health and medical issues, so when these companies or researchers do research that involves a medication they usually try to take away all these people who have increased risks to be in the study."

Bi-polar disorder is also called manic-depressive illness, and it causes extreme highs and lows in a person's mood, energy and ability to function. Dr. Al Jurdi says it's common in elderly people.

"It's estimated that around ten percent, up to eight to ten percent, of new cases of bi-polar happen in elderly, and most of the time they went subclinically, or under-diagnosed, or mis-diagnosed in the previous age."

Dr. Al Jurdi says there's almost no clinical trial data on which medications can help elderly people if they get sick. He says in 25 years, 30 percent of the population will be over the age of 60, so the learning curve on how to treat them then needs to start now. Veterans and non-veterans now over 60 who suffer bi-polar disorder, and who're interested in being in this study can call the Houston VA Hospital. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.