It would be a strange world if we lived our lives from news headlines to news headlines. The Swine Flu pandemic mobilised action all around the world and then disappeared in a sneeze rather than becoming the next Black Plague.
So what are we to make of the Daily Mail’s 9th September claim – “10p pill to beat Alzheimer’s”. Firstly, if it turns out to be true it will be good news for millions of people, not just the sufferers and their carers but also many more older people whose first memory lapse raises the prospect of a much worse fate awaiting them in their years ahead. Behind the headline is a research study from Oxford University which suggests that high doses of Vitamin B may significantly slow down the development of Alzheimer’s Disease. The researchers are quite rightly saying that more studies are required and it could be five years before firm conclusions can be reached. This caution is also echoed by Alzheimer’s organisations.
The problem with sensational news headlines is that they may raise false hopes for all the worried elderly people with slight memory loss who may not have Alzheimer’s at all. It would indeed be a miracle if dementia can be cured or at least dramatically slowed down by a 10p vitamin pill.
Only a few weeks ago I was reading about strawberries being a potential cure for memory loss (see Fruitful Research dated 10 April 2011) and earlier reports suggested walking, brain training and even eating walnuts may help. Such is the desperation of so many people who are worried about their future that they may try any or all of these. I doubt much harm will come to you through getting more exercise nor by eating more fruit. What might do more harm is over-simplified headlines which do a disservice to serious researchers and leave sufferers and their relatives clutching at hope.