A plea to the media – don’t ignore the rights of those ‘living with dementia’
Posted by: Alistair Clay | 31.07.15

In a previous life as a young time-poor hack I would churn out copy by the yard and I admit that under the pressure of tight deadlines, and the odd maniacal news editor, there was little opportunity to truly consider the impact of the words I was bashing out on my well-worn keyboard.

Each day another story – celebrity calamity, corporate corruption, political intrigue, healthcare scare/miracle cure – the pace in a newsroom can be relentless.

And sadly what this doesn’t allow for is much time to appreciate the power that language has to slap very unhelpful labels on people.

Now as the joint-head of a social care-focused PR agency I see how the media still has a long way to go to get the language right when it comes to covering dementia news.

And that’s why I applaud the Dementia Engagement and Empowerment Project (deep) and the Dementia Action Alliance, for their campaign Dementia Words Matter.

These groups have produced a clear guide, written by people living with dementia, that sets out the words and descriptions they would prefer are avoided by the media and other organisations.

Just last week the CQC signed up to the campaign and I would urge all healthcare journalists to do the same.

Describing those who have been diagnosed with dementia as ‘suffering with dementia’ or ‘victims of dementia’ disempowers them yet further.

People who have been diagnosed want to ‘live well with dementia’, they are ‘living with dementia’ – they are NOT dementia itself. If we define these people, who may be our loved ones, solely in the terms of their illness then we strip them of all remaining hope and humanity.

The power of language (especially in the media) to change the way people feel and behave is immense – let’s use it to create a nationwide culture of openness and support for those facing the challenges of living with dementia, not ‘write’ them off on day one of a diagnosis.