Dementia has over the last couple of years gained a new, high profile. It has hit the Big Time and become part of the Mainstream - subject of high-profile commitments, policies, plans, documentaries, works of arts, confessions. Dementia as a phenomenon which is affecting us all, and on which action is being taken, can now be seen all around us. This surely has to be a good thing?
DSDC does not campaign. It looks to increase the knowledge and understanding of dementia and how the lives of people with dementia can be enhanced based on evidence. At a Roundtable discussion DSDC hosted at the Royal College of Nursing, some concern was expressed about whether this higher profile was in fact going to lead to the type of improved understanding and sustainable change which was actually most helpful. The full discussion forms the basis for the first in a new series of Stimulating Thinking from DSDC called Iris.
What is now becoming clearer, since that discussion, is evidence of what might be called “compassion fatique”. As one journalist friend of DSDC put it – “There’s no point trying to get anything about dementia commissioned for broadcast anymore – the media have moved on”. Now this may be too black and white, but it makes sense that if the headlines are about huge investment (real or imagined) and progress (real or imagined) interest WILL move on to the next Big Thing which offers fresher meat. The charities will keep the flame of fear and need alive in any way they can (as this produces most of their income), but has it really been in anyone’s interests for them to get so close to government policies aimed at creating solutions in electoral time-scales?
Dementia is a longer-term challenge. The last thing it needs is to be seen as “Yesterday’s News”, as a result of media and policy over-kill and burn-out. We will have to see if this compassion fatigue and “moving on” is just a short-term problem, or whether the alliance of campaigning charities and government has actually done people with dementia more harm than good, with the type of coverage and narrative which they have promoted.
The Arts are different. If anything dementia is becoming more engaged with as a subject matter by artists in increasingly varied ways. This is likely to continue as the human impact of dementia connects to so many eternal personal and social issues. This may well form the basis for something more sustainable and valuable. It may not.
DSDC as a result is going to spend more time engaging very specifically with the way the Arts and Media frame dementia. A new Blog, DIAMetric, (Dementia In the Arts and Media) is going live this summer. DIAMetric will be a companion to Dementia Centred, the blog you are currently reading, which will continue to offer reflections on the world on dementia by the staff and friends of DSDC.
It promises to be an interesting time for anyone who is engaging seriously with dementia.