Betsy DeVos Invests in a Therapy Under Scrutiny
A group of brain performance centers backed by Betsy DeVos, the nominee for education secretary, promotes results that are nothing short of stunning: improvements reported by 91 percent of patients with depression, 90 percent with attention deficit disorder, 90 percent with anxiety.
The treatment offered by Neurocore, a business in which Ms. DeVos and her husband, Dick, are the chief investors, consists of showing movies to patients and interrupting them when the viewers become distracted, in an effort to retrain their brains. With eight centers in Michigan and Florida and plans to expand, Neurocore says it has assessed about 10,000 people for health problems that often require medication.
“Is it time for a mind makeover?” the company asks in its advertising. “All it takes is science.”
But a review of Neurocore’s claims and interviews with medical experts suggest its conclusions are unproven and its methods questionable.
Neurocore has not published its results in peer-reviewed medical literature. Its techniques — including mapping brain waves to diagnose problems and using neurofeedback, a form of biofeedback, to treat them — are not considered standards of care for the majority of the disorders it treats, including autism. Social workers, not doctors, perform assessments, and low-paid technicians with little training apply the methods to patients, including children with complex problems.
In interviews, nearly a dozen child psychiatrists and psychologists with expertise in autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or A.D.H.D., expressed caution regarding some of Neurocore’s assertions, advertising and methods.
“This causes real harm to children because it diverts attention, hope and resources,” said Dr. Matthew Siegel, a child psychiatrist at Maine Behavioral Healthcare and associate professor at Tufts School of Medicine, who co-wrote autism practice standards for the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. “If there were something out there that was uniquely powerful and wonderful, we’d all be using it.”
Neurocore rejects any suggestion that its treatments do not work as advertised. Dr. Majid Fotuhi, Neurocore chief medical officer, said, “There is significant research to support the efficacy of neurofeedback for a variety of mental and behavioral health issues.”
Ms. DeVos, whose appointment as education secretary is expected to be voted on Tuesday morning by a Senate committee, had said she would leave Neurocore’s board, but would retain her investment in the company, which she valued at $5 million to $25 million, according to documents filed this month with the Office of Government Ethics.
Last Friday, a group of Democratic senators sent Ms. DeVos a letter saying Betsy DeVos Invests in a Therapy Under Scrutiny - The New York Times: