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on a randomized, double-blind clinical trial, but on the results of one questionable animal study and one small – and unpublished – trial involving 6 patients, so the positive results are likely due to confirmation bias.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?