Deciphering the Effectiveness of Alzheimer’s Research Findings

           Published July 6, 2012, Pawtucket Times 

          Over a decade my mother was afflicted with the devastating medical disorder, Alzheimer’s Disease. Over the years with this affliction her physician would keep our family updated on the effectiveness of pharmaceutical research on medications that could put the breaks on this devastating disorder, one that would ultimately erase her short and long-term memory, making her husband of sixty years, and adult children virtual strangers to her.

            My family like hundreds of thousands of baby boomers and seniors sought out information from local newspapers, senior publications, national magazines, like Time or Newsweek, to unravel the medical mysteries of Alzheimer’s Disease.  Occasionally, I, like many shoppers at the local grocery store would sneak a peek, reading the National Enquirer while waiting in line looking for a little bit more information on new effective treatments for Alzheimer’s Disease.

Unraveling the Mysteries of Alzheimer’s Disease

            Oftentimes it becomes very confusing for caregivers to determine which profiled treatments are promising ones and which ones are not, due to the diversity of opinions in the research community.  Some articles might detail the effectiveness of taking Vitamin E; while others stress the effectiveness of Gingko, noting how it just might improve your memory.  Others might describe studies that indicate that estrogen replacement therapy is not really an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease for some women.  Or some might even issue a warning to the reader to “not eat off of aluminum plates” because some research findings seem to indicate that an accumulation of heavy metals, such as aluminum, in the brain might cause the devastating disorder of Alzheimer’s.

            Years ago I provided the following helpful tips to readers of my column that might just unravel the mysteries of reported research findings in Alzheimer’s research that are reported by the nation’s media.  These tips are just as true eleven years later.

            Always beware of glitzy headlines. Time limitations keep people from reading every word in articles that appear in their daily, weekly or monthly newspapers.  As a result, may readers just choose to quickly scan the headlines for their information.  Don’t judge an article by its cute headline.  The content of an article is much more balanced than the headline that is composed of catchy words, crafted to draw the reader in.

            Look for authoritative commentary.  You can consider an article to be more credible when it provides multiple quotes on the indications of an Alzheimer’s treatment.  Consider the report to have done a good job if there is an authoritative expert commentary of the significance of the study.  Two likely sources might come from staffers employed by either the National Alzheimer’s Association or the National Institute of health, a major federal government agency that fund’s Alzheimer’s research studies.  One might consider the National Alzheimer’s Association point of view to be less biased and a more reliable opinion than those researchers who have ties to a pharmaceutical company that issued the press release.

            Determine if there are disputes in research findings.  Keep in mind that even if a research study is reported there might be those persons who believe that the study is not well designed or has major research flaws.   On the other hand, the study might just be accepted by the scientific community as a solid study.  However, there might still be serious disagreements about how to interpret the results or how to classify it.  Some researchers might consider it a major study while others would not.  A well-researched article will include the quotes of those who oppose the study.

Seeking out Reliable Expert Sources

            Are you still confused by how to cull articles for tips to learn about safe and effective treatments for Alzheimer’s?  Where do we go from here?  Caregivers should view any article written about new Alzheimer’s treatments as informational in nature.  The article can open the door to the nation’s research community and it now becomes your responsibility to do your homework by seeking out more details about what the research findings indicate.

            If the article describes the results of an actual published research study, obtain the scientific journal with the published study at your local library or search for it on the Internet.   When found carefully read it.  If the findings are reported from a presentation at a conference attempt to track down the researchers for more information.  Finally cruise the Internet and check out the official Websites of the Alzheimer’s Association or the National Institute on Aging, to determine if you can locate more information about a reported new treatment.

            Finally, don’t hesitate to call Donna McGowan, Executive Director of the Alzheimer’s Association – Rhode Island Chapter at 401 421-0008 or email, Donna.McGowan@alz.org, to solicit the organization’s comments on research findings reported by the media. Remember Federal agencies, along with national and state Alzheimer’s organizations monitor research studies and their implications for treatment.

              Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues.  His Commentaries are published in two Rhode Island daily’s The Pawtucket Times and Woonsocket Call.

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