This is a story reporting on a very recent paper with results suggesting that diffusion MRI may be used as a tool for assessing memory function and may thus someday have a role in predicting future cognitive decline including that of Alzheimer’s disease. However the research itself did not involve individuals with Alzheimer’s disease, nor did it study individuals over time to establish whether the technique could be used to predict changes that occur for a given individual.
The story provided only the best case scenario for the value of this technique while acknowledging that ‘a good clinical evaluation’ is still the best tool available.
For individuals concerned about development about Alzheimer’s disease, this article is overly enthusiastic about the promise of this scan for enhancing the ability to detect Alzheimer’s disease.
There was no discussion about direct costs for this test.
The story always qualified any potential benefit as possibility by qualifying every claim with the term ‘may’. It would have improved this piece to include an explicit statement that there is currently no way to quantify what the benefit of early detection might be.
The story did not mention that 13% of the individuals in the study were unable to complete the test due to claustrophobia and that for 17% of the individuals tested, there were technical difficulties which made their test results unusable.
Although it was good that the story qualified every claim made for this new method of assessment with the term "may" ( as in ‘may prove useful’), it did not mention that the study merely assessed a group of individuals at a single time point and found that this test correlated with some verbal tests of memory. Because it is not possible to determine whether what appears to be age-related differences may relate to other ways in which the tested individuals differ, it is premature to conclude that this test will be found to successfully distinguish between those who will and will not develop Alzheimer’s Disease. In fact, since individuals with cognitive impairment were from excluded from the study, the study did not provide any evidence that the test could actually distinguish between people with and without Alzheimer’s Disease, let alone those who will develop the disease.
The story did not engage in overt disease-mongering.
The story did include a quote from a neurologist who did not appear to be directly connected with the study. That said, his comments were general in nature and were not explicitly about the research reported on.
The story mentioned that the testing procedure reported on ‘shows evidence of being more sensitive’ than other tests, while acknowledging that ‘a good clinical evaluation is still the best tool’.
The story provided no insight about whether hospitals have the facilities needed for this test.
While the story reported on a most recent study using DTI technology for assessment of Alzheimer’s disease, there is medical literature on this dating back several years, a context the story didn’t provide.
We can’t be sure of the extent to which the story was primarily driven by a news release. The story acknowledges that the quote from the lead author of the research came from a news release.