PEEL, E., 2014. 'The living death of Alzheimer's' versus 'Take a walk to keep dementia at bay': representations of dementia in print media and carer discourse. Sociology of Health & Illness, 36(6), pp. 885-901.
Understanding dementia is a pressing social challenge. This article draws on the
‘Dementia talking: care conversation and communication’ project which aims to
understand how talk about, and to people living with dementia is constructed. In
this article I draw on the construction of dementia manifest in two data sets – a
corpus of 350 recent UK national newspaper articles and qualitative data derived
from in-depth interviews with informal carers. These data were analysed using a
thematic discursive approach. A ‘panic-blame’ framework was evident in much of
the print media coverage. Dementia was represented in catastrophic terms as a
‘tsunami’ and ‘worse than death’, juxtaposed with coverage of individualistic
behavioural change and lifestyle recommendations to ‘stave off’ the condition.
Contrary to this media discourse, in carers’ talk there was scant use of hyperbolic
metaphor or reference to individual responsibility for dementia, and any
corresponding blame and accountability. I argue that the presence of individualistic
dementia ‘preventative’ behaviour in media discourse is problematic, especially in
comparison to other more ‘controllable’ and treatable chronic conditions. Engagement with, and critique of, the nascent panic-blame cultural context may be fruitful in enhancing positive social change for people diagnosed with dementia and their carers.
This is an Open Access Article. It is published by Wiley under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported Licence (CC BY). Full details of this licence are available at: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/
This research was funded by a British
Academy Mid-Career Fellowship (MC110142).