UBC research finds online advice for alzheimer’s disease often problematic

New study finds that many online resources for preventing Alzheimer’s disease are not accurate and could lead people in the wrong direction.

An online survey revealed many of the websites provide poor advice with 20 percent promoting products for sale.

“The quality of online information about preventing Alzheimer’s disease ranges,” said Julie Robillard, assistant professor of neurology at UBC with the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health and the National Core for Neuroethics. “The few websites offering high-quality information can be hard to distinguish from the many low-quality websites offering information that can be potentially harmful.”

Currently 564,000 Canadians have dementia. Considering the increase in aging population, this number is expected to grow close to one million in the next 15 years. With Alzheimer’s disease being the most common form of dementia there is a lot of ambiguity surrounding the cause of the disease and how to prevent its onset.

Earlier research has shown about 80 percent of people , and half of the older adults turn to the internet for health information.

Robillard and Tanya Feng, an undergraduate student, examined close to 300 online articles on preventing Alzheimer’s disease. Their studies revealed that websites with high-quality content usually provided high-level advice recommending individuals to take on lifestyle changes such as controlling their diabetes and exercising regularly.

The scientists determined a few common red flags for low-quality information. These speculative websites were the ones recommending products for sale alongside the content. Other signs of low-grade content included websites with very precise recommendations and nutritional guidance.

“Many red flags were not specific to what they were saying, but rather how they were saying it,” said Feng. “For example, using strong language like ‘cure’ or ‘guarantee’, promoting their own products, and relying on anecdotal evidence instead of empirical research is suggestive of poor-quality information in online dementia information.”

The researchers stated this type of information is pricey with people spending money into products with little or no scientific proof for their effectiveness.

In addition, the advice could cause tension and may have an effect on the physician-patient relationship. The patients may lose their trust in their physician, if the Dr. disagrees with the recommendations on the websites. In other cases, the patients may keep their Dr. in the dark about the changes they have made in their daily habits.

The researchers are creating a tool named QUEST, a simple test of six questions to help people recognize high-level information online.