So how did the Guardian see in Christmas 2013 dementia-wise? It gave us the gift of a heartfelt piece bursting with clichés and wrapped in over-extended metaphors. Thus summing up in one neat package just how crass coverage of dementia in the media can be.
The tone is set by a headline aiming for epic effect: “Amid the chaos, a memorable Christmas in Mykonos”. Then two great subeditor lines: “My mother is losing her identity in the midst of a country losing its own. Try to build what memories you can today”. What’s this, a daring parallel to come between Dementia and the Greek economy AND a fatuous homily? So we just have to read on.
Alex Andreou, the “ordinary bloke just like us” who wrote the piece, stacks up the clichés you would expect from a dementia feature in the UK nationals – the usual, damaging stuff of framing.
— Cue the depiction of dementia as a tale of sufferers and victims.
— Cue the stoic, or should it be Stoic, reconciliation by the family with the impact of someone else’s dementia on them.
— Cue the sentimental and intimate anecdote about “Gran” for emotional uplift.
— Cue the use of memory as a loose metaphor for something missing from the past.
So as ever it is not really about the person with dementia but about how nobly the family is coping with a change for them, with their memories, their world. The person with dementia remains dependent and faceless, as a victim would of course, defined by her changed behaviour and the dementia label she has to wear now at all times.
Adaptation is by the family to accommodate the sufferer and to bond anew. The story is not the positive adaptation of the environment for the person with dementia who retains their own identity and will. How could they? After all they have dementia.
There is nothing remotely new here. But we are not finished. There follows a nostalgic appeal to a past that never really existed, where communities and neighbourhoods cared for people with dementia. Here Alex labels the appeal rather oddly as “a rather socialist thought”, which maybe has different resonances in Greece or just means he doesn’t believe it either. Who knows, but the universal and empty appeal to communities is a cracker for Christmas. A final chirpy but serious reference to why memories matter and we are done.
There are excellent, personal accounts of caring. They are valuable in many ways. This stuff is not. It represents a shameless use of dementia as a puller of heart-strings, a sentimental tale for Christmas, a prop for self-regard and empty emotion. It is a waste of space and a lost opportunity.
The Guardian deserves to be picked on for going with such a lazy piece of mawkish nonsense. They are not alone. This negative framing of dementia just keeps coming from the media. Dementia has now got embedded in the public mind as a plague with victims and sufferers and heroic responses.
Maybe next year Santa could bring something more substantial and genuine about dementia, unless of course he himself falls “victim” between now and then. In which case we can anticipate nothing but awfulness (relieved occasionally by an uplifting and unexpected moment) and, please no, a piece from one of his elves about how his world has been turned upside down, until the inevitable grim end.