Monday, March 2, 2009

Nicole, stop frightening us

Which? have questioned the lack of science behind brain trainers that tell you your 'brain age'. These products have always interested me not just because Nicole Kidman advertises them but because, to be honest, I'm terrified of dementia. I've seen it eat into grandparents on both side of my family and given that I never had much a memory in the first place, I've always wanted to know what i could to avoid the inevitable or, at least delay it as long as possible.

I tried one of these online brain tests and I have to say it did nothing at all to ease my fears, quite the opposite. With every single question a race against a 30-second clock, I felt like a chess player being timed out, reeling from bad move to bad move. I never finished the thing as - thankfully - I was interrupted but I have no doubt that my 'brain age' would have been up in three figures as I panicked, made daft mistakes and clicked in the wrong place.

Like everybody I want to believe that there is a magic bullet out there but there isn't one for Alzheimer's any more than there is for cancer or heart disease. As ever, it's about money. Some of these products are not cheap. Private medicine will always be there to exploit our fears of illness and as science advances so do their marketing techniques. One of the great things about the NHS is that we never have to ask ourselves the question 'Is this treatment for the benefit of my health or my medic's bank balance?' (Under any health care regime where money changes hands between doctor and patient - not just terrible ones like in the USA but even supposedly good ones like France - you're asking it every five minutes.)

The worry for health campaigners - and this is the men's health angle here - is that people who can't afford to be scared because they can't afford the solutions will simply turn off and not take any notice of any health advice. You may not need a 'brain trainer' but doing the odd crossword won't hurt. If anybody wants to help me with mine, I'm stuck on 'instinctive sense of self-preservation on which commerce preys' (4). First letter F.

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