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Online advice for preventing Alzheimer’s could be steering you in the wrong direction

Do you turn to the internet when you need advice on a medical condition? If so, you’re not alone. It’s estimated that over 80% of us go online when we want information or advice, with almost half of older adults turning to the internet for advice about medical matters.

However, new research carried out by University of British Columbia in Vancouver has found that many of the online resources which claim to offer advice for preventing Alzheimer’s disease are not as reliable as they should be and could even be steering you in the wrong direction.

By analysing almost 300 online articles offering advice on how to prevent Alzheimer’s disease, the researchers discovered that many websites offered poor quality advice with one in five of these sites promoting products for sale which they claimed could help ward off the disease. Furthermore, it was often difficult to distinguish the websites which offered high-quality information from those which offered potentially harmful information and advice.

Despite the fact that Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most common forms of dementia, we still don’t know for certain the causes and the best way to protect yourself from developing the disease. High quality websites tend to offer information and advice such as adopting lifestyle modifications, including managing diabetes and taking part in regular exercise. However, the researchers also found that some sites not only offered poor quality information, but that this information was accompanied by recommended products to prevent Alzheimer’s which were offered for sale via the site. Other sites also offered specific recommendations and nutritional information which lacked the empirical research to back up their claims, relying on anecdotal evidence instead.

Relying on this type of information and claims can prove to be very costly if readers decide to buy products which have no scientific evidence to confirm their effectiveness. Furthermore, some advice can often make people more anxious and may also affect the relationship that the person has with their physician, especially if the physician doesn’t agree with what the patient has read on line. More worryingly, some people are following advice they’ve found on such sites without informing their physician.

In order for people to recognise whether the information presented is of good quality, the researchers are now developing a simple six question test which they’ve called QUEST.

The results of this study were published in an online edition of the Journal of Alzheimer’s disease.

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