The Federal Trade Commission often issues warnings for consumers about scams of all kinds. They are raising the alarm about phony treatments and cures for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, sending letters to the companies that advertise these fake products.
We can understand why people who desperately want a cure for a disease that is currently not curable will look to the internet for promises. Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias create a long, sad, expensive journey for elders and their families. We address these every day at AgingParents.com, working with these families. No one wants to hear from doctors that there is no treatment to fix the disease and that no drug company has a cure. Denial leads folks to find a way to cope with the sad truth. Desperation for relief is an invitation to manufacturers who create false hope for those affected.
You may see the ads on TV or the internet that promise to improve your memory if you just take this pill every day. It is not true that pills can improve your memory. Memory loss can be an early warning sign of dementia developing. People fear dementia over just about any other disease process, including cancer. We at least have treatments and surgery for many cancers. There are none for dementia. When manufacturers of these products tell you that the pills will “improve” your memory, they are not promising a cure, and that is how they get away with the false promises.
The Risk Of Phony Products
The FTC is aware that consumers may take phony cure products with hopes of a particular outcome, even though there is no proof that the product works. They caution that anyone should check with a doctor before buying any non-prescription treatment for a known condition. Further, the condition the consumer thinks they are treating may be something else entirely. They see something on TV and think, “yeah, I have that”. When a physician examines and does diagnostic work for the patient, the chance of a valid finding is much greater than when consumers diagnose themselves. Perhaps they will miss needed care because they have been fooled into thinking they have something they don’t have.
Specific Dangerous Products
The FTC warns that some advertised products promoting a fix for anything related to memory loss can be dangerous. Some examples of dietary supplements which show no evidence of treating memory loss include: ginkgo biloba, fish oil, grape seed extract, curcumin, Asian ginseng, and vitamins B and E. This is not to suggest that each of these so called “dietary supplements” is inherently dangerous in itself. Rather, the FTC warns that they do not do what the promoters say they will do. Further, the symptoms could be related to a different condition that needs medical attention, and failure to get correct information could stop or delay getting appropriate treatment for that different condition.
Some consumers are not aware that the term “dietary supplement” means that it is not reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration for safety. Anything like that, which is not regulated, can be sold by anyone making any claim as long as they don’t tell the consumer that it will actually “cure” something. But they are sneaky in the way they get you to buy the product. They show you images of people who say they are feeling great, or they had a problem before and now it’s gone. They carefully make no direct statement about a cure of the condition at hand but they imply it. Their packaging is carefully worded to say the supplement “supports” memory, or the pill “may enhance” a condition. The FDA does not stop them. Unregulated, unmonitored supplements are the venue of choice for fake claims.
In truth, no one can stop the aging process nor memory loss with a pill. If your aging loved ones (or you) are buying into and believing the advertising, think again. Don’t waste your money. It is a lot harder to adjust your lifestyle to do what doctors recommend about how you exercise and what you eat than to think you can skip all that and fend off age-related issues with supplements. And what happens when you put these “miracle” pills into your body? Sometimes they actually harm you. Sometimes they do absolutely nothing but pass through your body. They are removed by your liver and kidneys, just as the body generally removes the waste products of what we put into it. As one doctor said, well, take something that does not help you at all and you end up with very expensive urine.