Media depiction of dementia could damage patients, says Worcester researcher

Worcester News: Professor Elizabeth Peel from the University of Worcester Professor Elizabeth Peel from the University of Worcester

THE way dementia is presented in the media could be is having a damaging impact on those living with the condition, a leading psychologist working at the University of Worcester has warned.

Professor Elizabeth Peel has said phrases such as ‘ticking time bomb’ could be creating feelings of fear and anxiety among those living with the condition and promotion of ‘faddy avoidance tactics’ including telling people to complete a crossword a day could create feelings of self-blame.

Her comments came at the end of a 12-month study conducted with the university’s Association for Dementia Studies in which she examined hundreds of UK national newspapers and interviewed a number of people caring for people with the condition about their experiences.

“A panic-blame framework was evident in much of the print media coverage,” she said. “Dementia was represented in catastrophic terms such as a ‘tsunami’ and ‘worse than death’, juxtaposed with coverage of individualistic behavioural change and lifestyle recommendations to ‘stave off’ the condition.”

She added specific words and the tone of an article could have a serious impact on people with dementia.

“There is an emerging level of stigmatisation of people living with dementia,” she said.

“While individualised health messages may have valence for the ‘worried well’, the impact on those already diagnosed with a dementia – especially vascular dementia – and their families, may be detrimental.”

This week the Alzheimer’s Society warned more than one in five people affected by dementia are given no information or support after their diagnosis.

The charity’s regional operations manager for the West Midlands David Ash said about 60,000 people in the region suffer from the condition, but less than half of these have been diagnosed.

“Like entering a maze blindfolded, too many people with dementia are left without a guiding hand to help them come to terms with this debilitating, terminal condition,” he said.

More than 800,000 people in the UK have some form of dementia and it is predicted this figure could hit one million by 2021.

It is estimated dementia costs to the NHS, councils and families £23 billion a year – more than cancer and heart disease combined.

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