Background: stroke is predominantly a disease of older people. While age bias has been demonstrated in studies of pharmacological therapeutic interventions in stroke, the extent of discrimination by age in stroke rehabilitation studies is unknown. The aim of this study was to systematically review the literature to assess the extent of ageism in stroke rehabilitation studies.
Methods: all randomised control trials (RCT) on stroke rehabilitation entered in the Cochrane database which reported mean age were included. Patient gender and exclusion criteria were also recorded.
Results: of 241 RCT's identified, 182 were eligible for inclusion. The mean age of all patients was 64.3, almost a decade younger than those seen by stroke physicians in daily practice in global terms, and 11–12 years younger than encountered in hospital practice in the British Isles. Almost half (46%) of trials excluded patients with cognitive impairment, almost one-quarter (23%) patients with dysphasia and one-eighth (13%) excluded patients with multiple strokes.
Conclusion: we have identified a clear difference in the mean age of those included in stroke rehabilitation studies compared with the international mean age of stroke. In addition, a quarter of trials excluded dysphasic patients which may indicate omission of more severe strokes. This means that the evidence base for stroke rehabilitation is deficient in terms of matching the characteristics of patients encountered in clinical practice, and a more representative sample of older people and those with significant disability must be included in future trials.