Beware alarmist medical advertising about Alzheimer’s disease: The story of one “Brain Health Quiz”

© 2012 Alexan­dra C. R.


Is a Dubi­ous ‘Brain Health Quiz’ Stok­ing Alzheimer’s Anx­i­ety to Lure Patients? (Undark):

…Alarmist med­ical adver­tis­ing is pret­ty fun­ny on tele­vi­sion, but it can be far more trou­bling in real life. Although I’ve nev­er been alert­ed to impend­ing death, I recent­ly received an adver­tise­ment from my own trust­ed health care provider warn­ing that I may have Alzheimer’s dis­ease, although I have no known symp­toms and no complaints.

As long-time patients at NorthShore Uni­ver­si­ty Health Sys­tem, which is affil­i­at­ed with the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go, my wife and I received two solic­i­ta­tions from its Cen­ter for Brain Health tout­ing the devel­op­ment of “ways to slow brain aging and even pre­vent the onset of Alzheimer’s…”

The test has 23 yes-or-no ques­tions about health and lifestyle. Some of them seem obvi­ous (Is there a fam­i­ly his­to­ry of Alzheimer’s? Have you had a stroke?), and some are much less intu­itive (Did you com­plete less than 12 years of school? Does your diet include white bread every day?).

A final ques­tion asks, “Are you wor­ried about your brain health?”

Select­ing “No” for all ques­tions, includ­ing the final one about wor­ry­ing, is appar­ent­ly the only com­bi­na­tion that gen­er­ates an alter­nate response from the quiz: “Looks like you have a healthy brain.”

This struck me as prob­lem­at­ic at best. The Amer­i­can Med­ical Association’s Code of Ethics pro­hibits adver­tis­ing that is “mis­lead­ing” or cre­ates “unjus­ti­fied med­ical expec­ta­tions,” and it requires claims to be “fac­tu­al­ly sup­port­able.” The Brain Health Quiz, as I dis­cov­ered, is almost guar­an­teed to gen­er­ate a 100 per­cent hit rate, even for peo­ple with­out any of the objec­tive risk fac­tors. It pur­ports to be mak­ing indi­vid­u­al­ized assess­ments through mean­ing­ful screen­ing, but it ends up push­ing con­sul­ta­tions for near­ly every­one. After all, why take the quiz if you aren’t already concerned?”

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About SharpBrains

SHARPBRAINS is an independent think-tank and consulting firm providing services at the frontier of applied neuroscience, health, leadership and innovation.
SHARPBRAINS es un think-tank y consultoría independiente proporcionando servicios para la neurociencia aplicada, salud, liderazgo e innovación.

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