Return of the infrared Alzheimer’s helmet


Back in January, the Daily Mail reported on “the helmet that could turn back the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.” The device is pictured above, held by its inventor, a British GP called Gordon Dougal. It consists of 700 light-emitting diodes which transmit near-infrared light into the brain and can, according to Dougal, stimulate hippocampal neurogenesis, and therefore reverse the cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s, if worn for 10 minutes a day for about a month.

When the story first came out, David Gorski did a brilliant job of explaining why it is probably too good to be true: Dougal’s claims are based not on a randomized, double-blind clinical trial, but on the results of one questionable animal study and one small – and unpublished – trial involving 6 patients, so the positive results are likely due to confirmation bias.

Furthermore, as far as I know, there is as yet no evidence that near-infrared light can actually stimulate the generation of new nerve cells. Even so, the Telegraph now reports that Dougal’s helmet “could cure dementia“:

The treatment has halted the aggressive memory loss of one man after just three weeks of wearing the helmet for ten minutes twice a day.

Clem Fennel, a 57-year-old company director from the US, had been unable to perform the simplest of tasks before the treatment, but can now answer the phone and hold meaningful conversations.

[Dougal] said the success of Mr Fennel’s treat was “hugely significant,” and hoped the device could eventually help thousands of dementia sufferers. However, a full clinical trial must be carried out before the helmet could be licensed for public use.

Basically, this means that Dougal is no closer now than he was 6 months ago to showing the efficacy of his device – no randomized, double-blind trial, and no data published in a peer-reviewed journal. All he has is more experimenter expectancy effects. Why, then, is there more media hype about this helmet, when there is still no hard evidence that it works?



7 thoughts on “Return of the infrared Alzheimer’s helmet

  1. My friend, you have succumbed to the common and natural false assumption: That “media hype” has anything to do with truth, or “hard evidence.” It doesn’t.
    Isn’t there some study somewhere about human memory, storytelling, and exaggeration?
    Fold into that the exaggerated nature of some art, and fold into that the many and varied layered accretions of media, marketing, and Berneyesian propaganda (an almost redundant term) through, up to, and including digital media here in the virtual world.
    And we have a Mix that may make one Wonder at the real world as well. Wondering at the sheer qualitative change in the ways we communicate and access information can stem the flood of indignation at the more glaringly ugly denziens of the bioinfodiversinet.
    Switching thoughts — positive to negative. Transforming the mindstream of energy. Afaik, this is the essence of Tantra. Of cbt?

  2. “Why, then, is there more media hype about this helmet, when there is still no hard evidence that it works?”
    because it’s more important for the media to be pretty than smart.

  3. I’m glad this is all funny to some of you, but my father is showing early signs of the disease, not funny. Could anyone tell me where to get some real information on the progress of the research. There is no miracle cure, but hope never hurts.

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