Is the Brain Today Blog Worth Reading?

Contributed by: Dennis Fortier, President, Medical Care Corporation

As an avid reader of the press coverage of the Alzheimer's and dementia space, I am aghast at how inaccurately many stories are reported. This has been my motivation for editing this blog and for writing educational series like "How to Read the News". Some stories are so consistently mis-characterized in the press, even by respected sources, that it makes me question the quality of everything I read.

Last week, a completely unsurprising study was published in the journal Neurology. It showed evidence of a phenomenon that was already widely reported and well accepted, yet the coverage of the story has been twisted and sensationalized beyond recognition.

I am speaking of the study that showed how mental activity is most likely helpful in maintaining cognitive function. However, many notable media sources opted to frame the finding in a sensational light with headlines suggesting that mental activity is detrimental to cognitive health.

Here are a few examples:


Headline: Mental Stimulation Postpones, Then Speeds Dementia
Can Cognitive Exercise Speed Up Dementia?

Both of these would leave a headline scanner with the notion that using your brain may be, in some way, harmful to your cognitive health. In the second story, NPR was pretty clear about the finding but, given the overall poor quality of reporting on this study, I think the headline was reckless and lent itself to misinformation.

U.S. News and World Report
Headline: Mental Activity Linked to Alzheimer's Decline

Although this brief story was quite clear, the headline was entirely misleading.

LA Times
Headline: For the intellectually active, Alzheimer's diagnosis begins a steep slide

This headline shows a bit more editorial constraint, making a less clear connection between mental activity and poor cognitive health, but it suggests a pernicious relationship. I would expect more from the LA Times.

Headline: Brain exercises delay, speed up dementia?

Much like the NPR headline, this strongly suggests that exercising your brain may be bad for your cognitive health. It's unconscionable.

Fortunately, not every source leapt at the opportunity to use wild sensationalism as a hook to attract readership. Businessweek got it right twice with two honest headlines on their coverage and the Washington Post was accurate as well. Neither publication emphasized the optimistic finding that brain exercise might allow you to maintain sharp thinking skills, but at least they were honest. Here are their headlines:

Business Week
Headline: Mental 'Exercise' May Only Hide Signs of Alzheimer's
Headline: Brain Exercise Won’t Help Once Alzheimer’s in Place, Study Says

Washington Post
Headline: Does mental activity prevent dementia?

The point of the Brain Today blog is to read the news with a critical eye and to lend perspective to the news and to the way the news is reported. It is unfortunate, but you really need to read with a discerning focus to keep from being led astray by the popular press. This blog aims to help you with that effort.

A better understanding and more awareness of Alzheimer's related issues can impact personal health decisions and generate significant impact across a population of aging individuals. Please use the share buttons below to spread this educational message as widely as possible.

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