Not many days go by without news headlines and scare stories about dementia and our risk of getting it. But, is dementia fear spawning an industry of products we don’t need?
There may be some good in this media hype: after all, the real changes we need to make in reducing our risk of most diseases are around our lifestyle. Yes, that’s a healthy, balanced diet, stopping smoking, avoiding high levels of alcohol.
But many of us will know with a disease like dementia, it can be tempting to try and reduce your risk, by finding out just what sort of shape your brains are in, or by buying products and services that claim to test your brain function or even prevent dementia including Alzheimer’s Disease. But do these products really help?
Testing these product claims
Which? experts – including a dietitian, a GP and a professor of public health medicine – looked at services and products, including food supplements, and concluded that there is no robust evidence that the vitamins, plant extracts and other ‘functional’ ingredients commonly used in these supplements can reduce the risk of dementia.
We found one company’s dementia prevention claims so misleading that we’ve reported them to the Advertising Standards Authority. And another company we believed to be making dodgy claims has apologised and is reviewing its marketing.
Our experts were also sceptical of the online and in person tests and investigations that try to spot mild cognitive (brain) impairment and dementia. Some of these cost as much as £1000 plus.
While testing may identify people with mild cognitive impairment, many wouldn’t go on to develop dementia. These tests can cause untold worry through false positives, and even reassuring wrongly through false negatives. Screening for dementia is not recommended by the UK National Screening Committee.
Dealing with dementia
The truth is that dementia rates are falling. Maybe because we live healthier lives than previous generations. Regardless of the fall in dementia rates, it’s unacceptable that these companies are preying on our fears by making claims that don’t stack up.
We advise that small changes to your lifestyle may make a difference to your dementia risk. Changes such as eating a healthy diet, regular exercise, no smoking, avoiding drinking high levels of alcohol, and keeping your brain active. For further information about dementia please visit our free Which? Elderly Care website.
So have you, or a family member or friend, tried to reduce your risk using one of these products or services? Did that product promise better brain health or to prevent or reduce your risk of dementia? Do you think it benefited you in any way?