Crackpot therapy for Alzheimers

It seems that a brilliant doctor in the UK has come up with an amazing piece of machinery and convinced a famous author to wear it in order to stave off the onset of Alzheimer's disease. Here's the machinery... looks like a mind control device or something - too bad It's not going to work.


According to the news article about this amazing technology:

The prototype anti-dementia helmet, which must be worn for ten minutes each day, was designed by British GP Dr Gordon Dougal.

It works by directing intense bursts of infrared light into the brain to stimulate the growth of brain cells.

Low-level infrared is thought to encourage cell growth in tissue and encourages it to repair.

Dr Dougal believes it can reverse symptoms of dementia - such as memory loss and anxiety - after just four weeks and experts have described it as 'potentially life-changing'.

So what do I find so troubling about this whole thing? Well...besides the basic stink of something not quite right. From what I've heard in the past (I make no claim to actually know anything of substance here) Infrared light encounters a lot of problems getting through much more than a couple centimeters of brain tissue. Check out optical imaging for example. I can't imagine that, even if this technique could induce neurogenesis or keep plaques and tangles from forming under direct stimuliation, the light could even make it to the inferior temporal cortex where a lot of the action in Alzheimer's occurs. Ohh well... I guess there's always going to be some idiot doctor and some idiot author who are going to convince some other idiots to spend money on something like this.

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I think it doesn't bode well for your future as a psychologist to call Alzheimer patient an "idiot" offhand. Yes I know what you mean, I too think Mr. Pratchett should have known better than to let himself be effectively turned into a prop for advertising an untested therapy that is extremally unlikely to be effective. And I still consider your choice of phrase inappropriate.

By Wojciech Setlak (not verified) on 20 Jan 2009 #permalink

I'm not *that* kind of psychologist ;)
I don't profess to be PC or help people's feelings.

ohh... and him having alzheimer's and being an idiot are orthogonal. You are just reading into it too much.

Terry Pratchett is a genius (as far as language skills and knowledge of history go), and I can understand why he'd want to try anything to slow his alzheimer's though I would have expected him to be more cynical. It's not his speciality area, how was he to know? The G.P. could seem like a credible authority to someone in that situation.

Pratchett said shortly after his diagnosis that he'd "Eat the arse out of a dead Vole" if he thought it would give him more time. I'm fairly sure that wasn't intended as an endorsement of rodent fecal consumption but as an indication of his desperation. He's probably aware of the absurdity of this, but will try anything in case someone somewhere activates an infinite-improbability drive just at the right moment.

By Lucas McCarty (not verified) on 20 Jan 2009 #permalink

Anything that takes up whatever time that Terry Pratchett has left to write books seems a criminal waste. Considering he has access to the best medical care in the UK, I'm assuming he did some basic research before signing up for this. Desperation can make people do strange things.

I've been tracking the progress of these doctors for over a year now (see here), and what annoys me most of all is this science-by-press-release attitude they seem to have. Instead of putting their efforts into public relations, I'd like to see them do the proper trials they've been promising since forever.

I'll risk being blunt and try to drive the point further home: I think that the patient has the right to try any therapy, no matter how exotic it may seem or how unsubstantiated its claims appear, especially when there is still no treatment available. What we might think about his decisions is our business, but calling him an "idiot" in public is frankly appaling when it comes from a specialist in the field. I wish you many spectacular successes but I also hope you won't stray anywhere near actual people in need of treatment with your attitude.

By Wojciech Setlak (not verified) on 20 Jan 2009 #permalink

So Wojciech,
When something is clearly a complete and utter scam where some person is bilking a group of people who have declining cognitive abilities as well as their suffering families - that is ok?

Don't you think people deserve to be protected against dishonest or just stupid medical practitioners?

People needing treatment do need to know these thing. And I don't treat people - nor will I ever.

"Don't you think people deserve to be protected against dishonest or just stupid medical practitioners?"

I've got enough government "protection" already.

By Phil Goetz (not verified) on 20 Jan 2009 #permalink

I'm sure that if anyone is keenly aware of the absurdity of wearing this goofy pseudoscientific mind control hat, it's Sir Pratchett himself. Yeah, his incredibly clever brain is currently being eaten by an incurable degenerative illness, but he clearly still has the sense of humor that made his fans love him in the first place.

Omnibrain, I have absolutely no problem with exposing unethical practitioners or outright scammers for what they are - and whatever they are, in this case calling them "idiots" is giving them the benefit of the doubt, I'm afraid. It's just painting the patient with the same broad brush I oppose. I also believe Mr Pratchett is aware that he's grasping at straws here and I wish he didn't consent to being used in promotion of this "therapy". I hope his treatment wasn't conditional on his agreement.

By Wojciech Setlak (not verified) on 20 Jan 2009 #permalink

Pratchett was a hero of mine when I was in school, it's a shame to see him touting this sort of nonsense. Surely he must be aware that people look up to him and may endanger themselves by seeking out similarly bogus carnival sideshow nonsense instead of focusing on evidence-based treatments which may actually be beneficial? I know he said he was desperate and try anything but I wish he showed a bit of Swayze-esque common sense (never EVER thought I'd hear myself saying that...)

I don't think we can criticise Mr Pratchett for trying anything, even if we 'know' it is not going to work. I know that if I was given a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease I would be in such desperation that I would try anything. I agree that it is unlikely that the infra-red light will reach anywhere near the areas where it is needed, (the temporallobe, hippocampus / amygdala), but neural networks are connected in unusual ways sometimes and we know that if you can elicit a positive effect in one part of the brain, then this can have 'knock - on' effects in other areas.

Don't be so critical, ultimately the man's sanity and life is at stake here. Good luck to him I say.

Unfortunately, Terry Pratchett has Alzheimer's disease. A disease that will, inexorably, rob him of his memory, his gift for language, his *reasoning and judgement,* and eventually everything many people consider to be what makes him "him."

I agree with Omnibrain that these doctors are charlatans who are using Mr. Pratchett's fame to encourage more desperate people and families to give them money.

However, Mr. Pratchett, as a result of his illness, is no longer functioning with his full mental capabilities. I do not judge him for allowing himself to be used in this way, because, as a result of his disease, I think it is unlikely he continues to have the capability to accurately assess the risks and benefits, to himself and others, of publicly participating in this ineffective "treatment". It is no more reasonable to expect a patient with Alzheimer's, even in the early stages of the disease, to be able to engage in a complex analysis of an unfamilar field than it is reasonable to expect a patient with a complete transection of his or her spinal cord to stand up and dance the tango.

Mr. Pratchett and his family have nothing but my best wishes for the challenges they face as they cope with the progression of this terrible disease.

I recently heard an NPR interview with Mr. Pratchett on just this topic. (Sorry, couldn't find the link.) He was absolutely frank about having no expectation that it would work. He just thought it couldn't hurt.

He's got an interesting variant of AD, by the way, that (at least for now) principally affects his occipital cortex, giving him visual/perceptual problems but little if any language or memory disturbance.

By Thos. Cochrane (not verified) on 23 Jan 2009 #permalink

I recently heard an NPR interview with Mr. Pratchett on just this topic. (Sorry, couldn't find the link.) He was absolutely frank about having no expectation that it would work. He just thought it couldn't hurt.

He's got an interesting variant of AD, by the way, that (at least for now) principally affects his occipital cortex, giving him visual/perceptual problems but little if any language or memory disturbance.

err... I would like to say that the author of comment 1 .... is an idiot. Sorry, this is a blog get over yourself.

By nicole scholtz (not verified) on 03 Feb 2009 #permalink

Its not possible to use, during the bath curent will be

By Muhammad Rashi… (not verified) on 28 Dec 2009 #permalink

i ll bet this works. only these incompetent american doctors and scientist say no because they are jealous and corrupt and dont want cures because then there greed of money will not keep coming in. so if an american doctor or scientist says it wont work that means it will. and by the way i am american

I guess no one here has done the research on his testing.
There are lots of things or should I says therapy or such that, according to the FDA and in some instances common sense ,should not work,but DO.

I had colo-rectal cancer and did alternative treatments and my Dr said I was going to die. It had spread to my liver, lungs and pancreas.A friend's brother who is a oncology Dr met me while visiting and he told my friend who told me later. "That man will be dead within 6weeks"
He doesn't want to hear what I did either.

Well here it is 6 years later I am completely cancer free and my Dr doesn't want to even talk about it.
He says "well it must be something we did"

And I have seen many other things that are not suppose to work according to Quackwatch, but do.
He is by the way being financed by the pharmaceutical companies and is not quite open minded or fair.

So remember your thoughts on this and in a few years IF it does work out ,remember to be open minded and look into there research before passing judgement.