BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND – Being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at age 75 years or older made it less likely that patients would receive intensive therapy than their younger counterparts, but that did not mean that they were treated any less favorably overall, according to findings derived from the Early RA Network cohort.
“The claim that the elderly are treated less aggressively isn’t completely true throughout the whole treat-to-target strategy,” said Simone Howard of King’s College London at the British Society for Rheumatology annual conference. While older patients were less likely to receive intensive treatment up to 2 years after their diagnosis, there was a shorter delay between the onset of symptoms and the first outpatient visit to a rheumatology clinic.
When compared against patients who were younger than 65 years, those aged 65-74 years and 75 years and older were 11% (P = .02) and 15% (P = .02) more likely to have their first outpatient visit within 10 months.
Furthermore, no significant differences were seen between any age groups in the time to first initiation of a conventional synthetic disease-modifying antirheumatic drug (csDMARD), which averaged nearly 3 months after symptoms appeared.
Ms. Howard, who has previously worked at the European Medicines Agency, noted that, during her time at the EMA, “there was a real push to incorporate the elderly into the regulatory framework more. In parallel, there were also reports of the elderly being treated less aggressively. So the question was, where was that coming from?”
Similar therapeutic approaches are advocated for older and younger RA patients, and to look for any disparities, Ms. Howard and associates turned to the Early RA Network (ERAN) to “investigate potential treatment bias against the elderly.”
ERAN is a hospital-based inception cohort of 1,236 patients with early RA who were recruited across 23 centers in the United Kingdom and Ireland between 2002 and 2014.
Of 1,131 patients used in the analyses, 9.7% (n = 110) were 75 years or older, 21.5% (n = 243) were aged 65-74 years, and 68.8% (n = 778) were 65 years or younger. The majority (67.7%) of patients were female.
Patients aged 75 years and older were more likely to present with comorbidities than the youngest group, and they had higher health assessment questionnaire scores at baseline. However, they were no more likely to have high disease activity at the first visit, which was defined as a disease activity score in 28 joints of more than 5, and the older patients were 27% less likely to be seropositive (P = .004).
“It’s when we come to pharmacological aspects of care that we are seeing treatment biases,” Ms. Howard noted. Patients over 75 years were significantly more likely than the youngest age group to be treated with glucocorticoids or csDMARD monotherapy at 1 year, and 23% more likely to be on less aggressive therapy (P equal to or less than .0001). Aggressive therapy was defined as the use of a combination of csDMARDs or the use of biologic drugs.
At 2 years, the oldest patients were 46% more likely than those under 65 years to be on less-intensive therapies (P equal to or less than .0001), with those aged 65-74 years 19% more likely to be on glucocorticoid or csDMARD therapy (P = .005).
Factors such as patient choice and tolerance were not considered in the analyses and could be important, Ms. Howard conceded in response to a question after her presentation.
Another point raised was that perhaps the prescribing of aggressive therapy would rationally be different in someone diagnosed with RA at age 85 versus 65 because the duration of time that would be likely to be lived with accumulating joint damage would be shorter at the older age and that would be balanced against the other effects of the therapy. So, there may be important reasons in shared decision making that influenced the treatment choices other than the age of patients.
Ms. Howard agreed, noting that this demonstrated the need to be careful around the language used for defining what constituted aggressive or intensive therapy.
She and her coauthors reported no conflicts of interest.
SOURCE: Howard S et al. Rheumatology. 2019;58(suppl 3), Abstract 011.