Wednesday, May 20, 2015

DG XXI: Doctor Akbaraly

And we’re back. Have you done yesterday’s homework? I shall be requiring a note from your mother if you haven’t.

No talking at the back. Let us proceed.

We’re looking at this study:-

Akbaraly et al (2009), Leisure Activities and the Risk of Dementia in the Elderly: Results from the Three-City Study,  Neurology vol 73 no 11, 854-861

Specifically we’re looking at Mig referencing it in the midst of a series of tweets earlier this month.

Verghese’s study wasn’t solely about cognitively stimulating hobbies, but a wide range of different leisure activities*. This we know from last year (DG III: Dogs That Don’t BarkDG VI: Doctor Susan)  and also because you followed the link yesterday to refresh your memories.

In contrast - according to Mig - Akbaraly and his colleagues focused on "mental stim". Which would be fine thing to explore if it were true. Unfortunately it isn’t.

You many not have been able to access the full-text of "Leisure Activities and the Risk of Dementia in the Elderly: Results from the Three-City  Study", but if you’d followed Mig’s link it would at least have taken you to the article Abstract. There, under "Objectives", you would have read,

we examined the association between leisure activities and risk of incident dementia and its subtypes within a general population sample, categorizing leisure activity as stimulating, passive, physical, and social.

Which might strike you as a little odd if the article really was focused on mentally stimulating activities.

Reading the article itself for more detail (if you do you’ll find that the following passages can be found on page 855), we find:-

Leisure activities were assessed at baseline, using 2 different self-report frequency questionnaires, 1 questionnaire for daily leisure activities and 1 for monthly. First, participants were asked, "Usually, how much time in a day did you engage for each of the following activities: watching TV, listening to the radio, listening to music, doing odd jobs, gardening, knitting/sewing, going for a walk.


In the monthly questionnaire, participants were asked about monthly frequency ... with which they engaged in the following usual activities: inviting friends, inviting relatives, visiting friends, visiting relatives, attending organizations (e.g charity, institution) doing crosswords, playing cards, going to the cinema/theater, practicing an artistic activity.

The researchers devised a three-point scale to evaluate the extent and frequency that their subjects undertook these activities. Thereafter they divided them up into broader categories as mentioned in the article’s Abstract. "Stimulating leisure activities", by the way, consisted of,

... doing crosswords, playing cards, attending organizations, going to the cinema/theater, and practicing an artistic activity ....

Statement of fact: the Akbaraly study is not focused on cognitively stimulating activities. Neither is it as different in methodology to Verghese’s research as you might expect from reading Mig’s tweets.

Does that matter?

Well, obviously you'd want to be a little wary about using this study to draw conclusions about chess. You might want to put a little thought into whether crosswords and playing cards are really directly comparable to our game (let alone doing something artistic, going to the cinema or 'attending organisations'), for example.

Nevertheless it is the conclusions of a piece of research that really count. Mig incorrectly stating that Akbaraly’s article focused on mentally stimulating activities doesn’t necessarily mean he’s wrong about the results of the research too.

True enough, but there is a problem here, nevertheless. When somebody cites a study in support of a particular argument and you discover that they’ve misdescribed that study it’s a bit of a sign that they’re perhaps not as on top of their subject as we might hope. Moreover, I would suggest that if we were to investigate the matter carefully we would find that on average there is a direct relationship between a person’s ability to accurately describe a particular piece of research and their ability to accurately describe the findings of that research.

So while we wouldn't dismiss out of hand Mig citing the Arkbaraly study on the basis of today’s post, we would approach what he has to say with a little caution. As it turns out we’d be right to do so. Regardless of what Mig might say, if you actually read Arkbaraly’s work you see it cannot in the least bit be said to provide 'strong evidence' that cognitively stimulating leisure activities help with dementia. We’ll return to precisely why next week. If you can’t wait that long, you can find a sneak preview as to the nature of the problem in my first comment after the DG VIII: Celebrity post from June last year.

And now back to your homework. Those that have already finished their reading already can go outside and play.

Chess and Dementia Index

* Activities analysed in Verghese (2003):
Cognitive: "reading books or newspapers"; "writing for pleasure"; "doing crossword puzzles"; "playing board games or cards"; "participating in organised group discussions"; "playing musical instruments".

Physical: "playing tennis or golf"; "swimming"; "bicycling"; "dancing"; "participating in group exercises"; "playing team games such as bowing"; "walking for exercise"; "climbing more than two flights of stairs"; "doing housework and baby sitting".

No comments: