"What's Good for You? Don't Go by Headlines. Making Sense of
The lead article in the AARP Bulletin (February 1998, Vol. 39, No. 2) reads, "What's good for you? Don't go by headlines. Making sense of medical news." The article continues and talks about the struggle older adults face with medical information, whether it's media generated or supplied by health care providers. Seniors are confused by conflicting information, disappointed when a provider doesn't have the specific answer they want/need, and challenged when research takes years to offer definitive results. The article offers these tips for older adults,
"Assessing health news."
"Medical experts prescribe large doses of common sense and skepticism for assessing new discoveries in health prevention and treatment. Some tips for making sense of health news:
*What is the source of the data? The most reliable data are likely to come from major government agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health or the Food and Drug Administration, or from respected scientific journals that typically require a peer review of submitted reports.
*How conclusive are the findings? Are they based on rigorous, controlled studies or on the "best evidence" from observational studies and other research? Are the data consistent with earlier findings and has it been replicated in other studies?
* Where did you learn about it? Did it come from a reputable news source that provided balanced coverage and distinguished between preliminary and conclusive results? Look for stories that discuss the pros and cons of the findings, related research and the views of others
in the field.
*Do the results, if conclusive, apply to you? Probably not, if you're at a very low risk for the condition in question or if you're not like the study participants (for instance, they have high blood pressure, but you don't). If you are at risk, ask if the treatment will improve your
outlook just slightly or significantly. Will its benefits outweigh its disadvantages?
*Is it too good (or bad) to be true? Beware of sensationalized reports. If the results seem unbelievable, they probably are. Especially beware of reported "cures" for serious conditions like AIDS and cancer, since few remedies, short of antibiotics for some infections, can totally
conquer disease. Keep in mind that vitamin and mineral supplements, herbal remedies and botanicals are subject to few federal regulations and that research on many of them is insufficient.
*Check with a health professional. If you're not sure whether to heed new research results, consult your doctor.
*Stay tuned. One or even two studies rarely pinpoints the cause of a disease or definitively proves the effectiveness and safety of a remedy. For most people, this means watchful waiting--perhaps for years."