A few important things to remember when reporting on dementia.
Media plays a crucial role in conveying ideas and associations to the general public. Integral to raising public understanding of dementia is the need to communicate images and language which are positive, whilst remaining realistic to the nature of the condition.
- Is the information current?
- Points to remember when reporting on dementia
- Interviewing & Interacting
- Appropriate use of language
Is the information current?
Life doesn't stop with a diagnosis of dementia. While it is a debilitating condition, many aspects of life can still be enjoyed. When media generates outdated stereotypes and ideas, it contributes to the fear and stigma surrounding the condition. The impact is felt directly by people living with dementia and their families and carers, who are then marginalised further.
Increased community understanding about dementia makes the step to seeking diagnosis or support so much easier for the many people with concerns about memory loss. The more that other people understand their experience, the better the quality of life for people living with dementia.
Media can contribute to ensuring the dignity and rights of people with dementia with coverage which recognises that people with dementia are defined by who they are not by their diagnosis. A discussion on appropriate language and depictions can be easily dismissed as over-the-top political correctness. In fact, using acceptable language is merely meeting basic levels of accuracy and objectivity - necessary conditions of good media.
Points to remember when reporting on dementia
Positive images are an important component to removing the fear and stigma surrounding dementia, and help make the issue one that people are more encouraged to acknowledge and address.
A "cure" for dementia
Be cautious when discussing the possibility of a "cure". While this may make appealing media, inaccurate or exaggerated suggestions in this area are potentially harmful for people affected by dementia.
Include a point of contact
Media can be active in helping people with queries about dementia by including a point of contact in their coverage. Simply including details of the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500 will enable people to locate further information or support after their experience with the coverage.
If you are in need of comment or assistance please see our Media Contacts page.
Normalising the condition
Media which includes self advocacy by people with dementia and to the disclosure by Hazel Hawke of her Alzheimer's and by other well known people overseas can be effective in normalising the condition for its audiences, and make the issue less confronting.
Similarly humour can be an effective way of diminishing fear of the condition, but must be used with great sensitivity. While sharing 'funny' anecdotes which people have revealed themselves can really work to reach audiences, the standard Alzheimer's/dementia jokes have little capacity for increasing understanding.
The "test" to be applied is "does this maintain the person's dignity?"
Interviewing and interacting
Talk to Me brochure on how to communicate with someone with dementia
- Interviewing a person with dementia may require patience. Be prepared to allow more time for answers and be willing to repeat questions if necessary
- Ask only one clearly phrased question at once and be clear and precise when seeking information on the person's experiences
- Be aware that because dementia is a memory condition, it may be difficult for the person to answer questions which require them to draw on their memory
- It is common to receive short, concise responses rather than drawn out explanations from people with dementia, so be prepared to move from these to the next point
- Don't confuse dementia with a hearing disability. It may help to speak clearly, but 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 do not understand the answer you receive, 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 has dementia second. Listen to their story.
Appropriate use of language
Language is a powerful tool. The words we use can strongly influence how others treat or view people with dementia.
Please use the paper below as a guide to appropriate language when talking about a person living with dementia.