The article “Brain Shunt Tested to Treat Alzheimer’s” (San Francisco Chronicle, October 23, 2002) summarizes the findings of a study that appeared in the journal Neurology. Doctors at Stanford Medical Center were interested in determining whether a new surgical approach to treating Alzheimer’s disease results in improved memory functioning. The surgical procedure involves implanting a thin tube, called a shunt, which is designed to drain toxins from the fluid-filled space that cushions the brain. Eleven patients had shunts implanted and were followed for a year, receiving quarterly tests of memory function. Another sample of Alzheimer’s patients was used as a comparison group. Those in the comparison group received the standard care for Alzheimer’s disease. After analyzing the data from this study, the investigators concluded that the “results suggested the treated patients essentially held their own in the cognitive tests while the patients in the control group steadily declined. However, the study was too small to produce conclusive statistical evidence.”
a. What were the researchers trying to learn? What questions motivated their research?
b. Do you think that the study was conducted in a reasonable way? What additional information would you want in order to evaluate this study?