Patients with dementia may have limited capacity to give informed consent to participate in clinical research. One possible way to safeguard the patients' interests in research is the involvement of a proxy in the recruitment process. In Italy, the system of proxy is determined by the courts. In this study we evaluate the timing for appointment of a legal proxy in Italy and identify predictive variables of appointment.
Subjects were recruited among the outpatients seeking medical advice for cognitive complaints at the Centre for Research and Treatment of Cognitive Dysfunctions, University of Milan, “Luigi Sacco” Hospital.
The Centre was participating to the AdCare Study, a no-profit randomised clinical trial coordinated by the Italian National Institute of Health. The requirement that informed consent be given by a legal representative dramatically slowed down the recruitment process in AdCare, which was prematurely interrupted. The Centre for Research and Treatment of Cognitive Dysfunctions collected data on the timing required to appoint the legal representatives. Patients diagnosed with dementia and their caregivers were provided information on the Italian law on legal agency (law 6/2004). At each scheduled check-up the caregiver was asked whether she/he had applied to appoint a legal proxy for the patient and the time interval between the presentation of the law, the registration of the application at the law court chancellery and the sentence of appointment was registered. The study involved 169 demented patients. Seventy-eight patients (46.2%) applied to appoint a legal proxy. These subjects were usually younger, had been suffering from dementia for a longer time, had less than two children and made more use of memantine. The mean interval time between the presentation of the law and the patients' application to the law court chancellery was two months. The mean interval time between the patient's application to the law court chancellery and the sentence of appointment was four months.
In Italy the requirement that legal representatives be appointed by the courts slows down subjects' participation in research. Other procedures for legal agency of the incapacitated patients may be adopted, taking as examples other EU countries' systems.