Social Media Drives Traffic to AD Education, Recruitment Website

Megan Brooks

November 10, 2015

BARCELONA — The use of social media is proving to be a valuable tool for educating people about Alzheimer's disease (AD) and recruiting for clinical trials.

"There is a critical need for people to join clinical trials for AD, and any strategy that will help to increase recruitment would help to fast-forward research advances," Richard Isaacson, MD, director, Alzheimer's Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medicine and New York-Presbyterian Hospital, New York City, told Medscape Medical News.

"As an example, if a study is looking for 300 participants, that could take up to 2 years to enroll those patients (sometimes more). If there was a ready cohort of interested patients, and enrollment was completed on day 1, we would have study results 2 years earlier," Dr Isaacson said.

Alzheimer's Universe

He and his colleagues tested the value of advertising on Facebook to drive people to the AD education research platform Alzheimer's Universe.

Adults were "easily and fairly cost-effectively recruited, and were highly satisfied" with the platform, Dr Isaacson and colleagues reported in a poster presentation at the 8th Clinical Trials Conference on Alzheimer's Disease (CTAD).

From April 1 to May 30, 2015, an advertising budget of $5000 led to 12,829 unique visits to the website for an average cost per click of $0.39 (range, $0.25 - 0.72).

The most successful ads targeted individuals in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia who had previously shown interest in AD, those who had "liked" the Alzheimer's Association website, and followers of www.facebook.com/AlzheimersDisease.

During the study period, a total of 2254 visitors joined AlzU.org (average 17.5% join rate), 1837 engaged with at least one lesson or activity (81.4%), and 821 completed the first five lessons on AlzU.org (36.4%), spending an average of 72 minutes on the site.

Users were primarily women (81%), and the most common age group was 50 to 60 years (41%). Most joined to learn more about AD prevention (68.5%) or treatment (64.2%). Users who completed the introductory course reported a 99% satisfaction rate (Likert scale score, 4.63).

"Our www.AlzU.org site is aimed for anyone who wants to learn the latest evidence about what AD risk factors are, and are not, under our control, and comprehensive evidence-based strategies for AD management," Dr Isaacson told Medscape Medical News. "People who join, first complete interactive lessons about AD and are then directed to AD prevention registries and ongoing trials, among other activities."

He noted that a major issue with participating in a clinical trial is fear "and also thinking incorrectly that nothing can be done." But Dr Isaacson said earlier research by his group "showed that when you teach people that you can take control of brain health via lifestyle changes and clinical trials, taking the AlzU online course doubled willingness to participate in a clinical trial."

Using cost-effective strategies such as social media "can reach an extremely wide range of people at risk, and our most recent study provides evidence for this," he concluded.

An Immediate Need

Reached for comment, Keith Fargo, PhD, director of scientific programs and outreach for the Alzheimer's Association, noted that AD is "reaching epidemic proportions, with an estimated 5.4 million Americans having the disease. With the aging of the baby boomer generation, the prevalence of Alzheimer's is projected to increase by more than 50% by 2030."

"Besides funding, recruiting and retaining clinical trial participants is the greatest obstacle to developing the next generation of Alzheimer's disease treatments. Alzheimer's research can only progress if people are willing to volunteer for clinical trials and studies. Before any drug or therapy can be used in clinical practice, it must be rigorously tested to find out whether it is safe and effective in humans. Today, at least 50,000 volunteers, both with and without Alzheimer's disease, are urgently needed to participate in actively enrolling clinical trials and studies in the US," Dr Fargo told Medscape Medical News.

To meet this "immediate need," the Alzheimer's Association has launched TrialMatch, a confidential and free interactive tool that connects individuals with AD, caregivers, and healthy volunteers to current AD/dementia clinical trials.

"The Alzheimer's Association is using TrialMatch to help maximize participation in clinical trials, and we're capitalizing on our strong online presence to bring people to that tool. Especially for families caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's disease, online communications can be a smart and effective method of outreach, interaction, and engagement," Dr Fargo said.

The study had no commercial funding. The authors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

8th Clinical Trials Conference on Alzheimer's Disease (CTAD). Poster P3-5. Presented November 7, 2015.

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