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Media: reporting on dementia
For many, mainstream media is the main source of knowledge and understanding about dementia. This is why it is crucial that people working in the media strive to provide information that is accurate, up-to-date and positive. This page provides a useful guide for reporting on people with dementia and their experiences.
Is the information current?
Life doesn’t stop with a diagnosis of dementia. While it can be debilitating, many aspects of life can still be enjoyed. The media has often been responsible for perpetuating outdated stereotypes about the disease, contributing to the fear and stigma surrounding the dementia.
By providing information that is accurate and up-to-date, you can increase community understanding of dementia, thereby encouraging those with memory concerns to take the first step to seeking a diagnosis.
Points to remember when reporting on dementia
Please read our language guidelines
There is no cure for dementia, but this does not mean every discussion about it needs to be “doom and gloom”. As a media person, you can shine a positive light on the experience of people living with dementia by providing information about the services that are available to them, such as respite centres, community care and educational workshops. This may encourage people whose lives have been impacted by dementia to seek help or assistance, thereby vastly improving their quality of life.
A “cure” for dementia
The search for a cure is something that occupies the mind of every person whose life has been impacted by dementia. But be cautious when discussing possible “cures” in the media. Although these can make for an exciting story, research into new drugs and treatments is a complex process and it commonplace for the media to acquire information that is inaccurate or exaggerated.
Include a point of contact
To include a point of contact in any media story relating to dementia, simply make viewers aware of our customer service number 1300 66 77 88 and/or direct them to the Alzheimer’s WA website. This is a way for media outlets to actively participate in assisting people living with dementia with any queries or concerns they might have.
For comments or assistance, please see our Media Contacts page.
Normalising the condition
Sharing stories of self-advocacy from people with dementia (both unknown and in the public eye) can help to normalise the condition in the minds of the general public. This can help to reduce the current conception of dementia as a scary, confronting issue and hopefully allow the public to embrace open discussion of dementia.
Humour can be an effective tool for reducing fear of dementia in the community, but it should be used with great sensitivity. Sharing humorous anecdotes that have been supplied directly by people living with dementia can be an excellent way of accessing the ‘lighter’ side of the issue. On the other hand, repeating jokes that use the symptoms of Alzheimer’s or any type of dementia as a punchline will fail to increase understanding and will most likely offend viewers. When considering whether or not to use humour in regards to dementia, always ask yourself; “does this maintain the person’s dignity?”
Interviewing and interacting
Below are some things to remember when interviewing a person with dementia:
- Patience – be prepared to allow more time for answers and be willing to repeat questions if necessary
- One question at a time – make sure your question is direct and clearly phrased
- Dementia is a memory condition – it may be difficult for the person to answer questions which require them to draw on their past experiences
- It is common to receive short, concise responses – do not expect to receive long, in-depth answers and be prepared to move from each question to the next
- Dementia is not a hearing disability – it may help to speak clearly, but it is not necessary to raise your voice
- Treat the person with dementia like any other interviewee – act naturally, greet them with a handshake and avoid patronising or over-praising
- If you don’t understand an answer, simply ask for clarification or repeat what you have understood for confirmation
- Avoid correcting, interrupting or speaking on behalf of the person
- Remember the individual behind the condition – report them as a person first and one who is living with dementia second
- Listen to their story
Appropriate use of language
The words used to talk about dementia can have a significant impact on how people with dementia are viewed and treated in our community. By misusing certain words or using words with negative connotations when referring to dementia, you can unintentionally affect the way your listeners/readers/viewers think and talk about dementia. This can spread misunderstanding and further the stigma associated with it.
Appropriate language must be:
- Non stigmatising
Everyone deserves respect
Respectful language recognises that dementia is not the defining aspect in a person’s life and treats them with the dignity deserved by every human being. Each individual will have their own preferences for the kind of language that should be used. For example, many people with dementia do not like to be termed “sufferers”, as this implies negative connotations of victimisation and hopelessness. It is important to continue the use of this respectful language, even when the person in question is not present.
You should be careful not to spread incorrect terminology or inaccurate information. This only reinforces negative stereotypes, leading to a general misunderstanding of dementia in the community. For this reason, it is important to be knowledgeable about the facts of dementia.
Remember; dementia is not a normal part of ageing. It is a serious condition that can affect language, planning, problem-solving, behaviour, mood and sensory perception.
Don’t be afraid to ask
Each Individual (and their families) will experience dementia differently. This means that there is no all-encompassing story that can be applied to the experiences of a person living with dementia. Therefore, it is important to ask people about their individual experiences and the specific challenges they have faced.
It is important to use language that focuses on the abilities of people with dementia rather than their deficits. By doing so, you shine a positive light on the dementia experience and help to retain feelings of self-worth and meaningful engagement in people with dementia.
‘Dementia’ and other related words may not have the same connotations for people from culturally or linguistically diverse communities. Whether in English or in translation, these words can sometimes be seen as offensive or disrespectful. Although understanding of dementia is growing in the Anglo Australian community, there is still an unfortunate lack of awareness in many diverse communities. In these cases, dementia may be incorrectly regarded as a mental illness or simply as a natural part of getting old.
Adding to the confusion, there are many words and phrases that may be considered appropriate in some communities but are considered offensive or meaningless in others. To combat this, it is important to be aware of the unique cultural background of the individual in question, so that you can use the most appropriate language in all your interactions with the person.