Each year DIAMetric reviews the way media handle dementia. This matters as the framing of dementia shapes the way we think, consciously or unconsciously. Following trends on reporting also sheds a little light on shifting social attitudes.
2015, tracked through the BBC website over the year, shows the same old themes are there – miracle cures, wicked care homes, stories of hope and the human cost. The three featured Editor’s Choices which come up first in a search are still the “Dementia Timebomb”, “the UK drive to double dementia funding” and a dubious piece of reporting on research about how testing recognition of famous faces “helps to spot early dementia”.
But the sweep of the BBC site shows dementia no longer has the pull it did in the golden years of 2006-2010, when the media were figuring out how to animate the human interest, science and news angles on dementia.
News stories in 2015 feel much thinner on the ground, restricted more to research reporting.
One story seems to have marked a turning point. “Dementia rates stabilising” runs the 21 August 2015 coverage of Professor Carol Brayne’s measured and welcome corrective to some earlier apocalyptic reporting. “Charities warned there was no guarantee the improvements would continue”. The wind goes out of the sails of much of the self-serving press releases overnight. So it leaves the media with an awkward question - where do we now go with dementia?
In localradioland there is no real need to change. Dementia has its place. It is established as a staple of content – a set pattern of reaction to national reports on funding, hospital experience and demographics. Or dementia gets the tried-and-tested BBC treatment of dedicating weeks to things, such as “Shrink Wrapped – Dementia Week”. Here we can expect local experts and anecdotes of local people with first-names only as anonymous illustrations of the good and the bad.
But the national news and features have changed. There is much less coverage. One way of looking at the drop in volume of dementia reporting, beyond (poor) reporting of hopeful research findings, is in fact positive. This would say the corner has been turned and the stigma has been broken – people now “get” dementia.
The alternative view is that dementia has had its moment for now. Or until the cure is here- whatever that may look like. More acceptable terms loosely involving the three words “frail”, “older” and “people” are starting to replace the need to use the still-toxic D word. Besides, other clearer-cut health issues such as public health campaigns, have more immediate audience connection.
The bad news is that dementia may already be SO yesterday.
But one final BBC headline to treasure caused by grammar failure – “Drivetime: Dementia and Tube Strike suspended”. Now that would be a story!