Non-Drug Treatments Are Under-Studied Because They Are Hard to Patent, and Hard to Test in Randomized Clinical Trials

(p. C3) In particular, decades of research show that mental, physical and social stimulation is one of the potential ways to ward off Alzheimer’s disease.

. . .

All of these findings come from observational studies that look at people’s existing lifestyle and cognitive health, as opposed to providing them with a “lifestyle treatment” and then assessing cognitive outcomes. The gold standard in modern medicine is randomized, blind, placebo-controlled trials, which are more quantifiable and objective, and there have been few such trials of lifestyle treatments for dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Those that exist have shown disparate results. For example, a study published in the journal Applied Neuropsychology in 2003 found that while mental drills could train people to do better on specific tasks like recalling words from a list, the effect didn’t translate into overall cognitive improvement. Clinical trials on social engagement are currently lacking.

One reason why the cognitive benefits of lifestyle enrichment haven’t been sufficiently studied is that nonpharmacological treatments such as physical exercise can’t be easily patented, so pharmaceutical companies aren’t interested in investing. It’s also difficult to use placebos. In drug trials, a look-alike sugar pill and a test drug are randomly assigned to participants, but there’s no equivalent of a sugar pill for enrichment activities. Instead, the control group either receives no intervention, a fact that can’t be easily hidden to avoid bias, or they receive some other interventions that may have effects of their own and muddle trial results.

For the full essay, see:

Han Yu. “An Active Lifestyle Can Help To Ward Off Alzheimer’s.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021 [sic]): C3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the essay has the date February 25, 2021 [sic], and has the title “Can an Active Lifestyle Help Ward Off Alzheimer’s?”)

The essay quoted above is adapted from Yu’s book is:

Yu, Han. Mind Thief: The Story of Alzheimer’s. New York: Columbia University Press, 2021.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *