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How does the media shape the way that the public thinks about the dementias?

This step explains a recent analysis that was carried out to analyse, assess and compare how different UK newspapers talk about the dementias.
One of the projects I’ve been working on with Created Out of Mind is a large scale analysis of how the media talk about people with dementia and the stories that they are putting out into the newspaper and the headlines or the sort of impactful statements that they’re using about people with dementia. And this was a project that was set up to look at this, because there was discussion around changing the narrative about dementia. However, there was no understanding of what the current narrative was. There was some organisations, such as DEEP, that have got a set of guidelines for people to follow, but some people don’t follow those guidelines.
And we felt, that as a project, we should explore how different news outlets are using the terms around dementia and how they’re describing people and what their stories are that are around dementia. I went out and found as many media articles as I could available online that I could download easily that involved the word dementia. So ingesting about 14,000 articles and going through those and getting these themes out–
that was in a number of news outlets: The Guardian, The Daily Mail, and The Daily Express, and other outlets, such as blogs written by people with dementia, because they were my sort of control group people, who have dementia, that are talking about their experiences from a very personal point of view, compared to the way that media outlets talk about it. And then once I had that information, I was doing large scale analyses of the words that were being used in there, so phrases such as ‘sufferer’ are things that we are told by people who have dementia they often don’t enjoy hearing on a personal note.
From the large scale analysis, we expected to see some fundamental differences between the left wing media and the right wing media and the way they were discussing these subjects. Some of the other trends that we saw were really just around the themes that people were talking around. So putting out huge amounts of articles about research, in particular drug research, seem to be the number one theme that the newspapers were picking up on– to be expected. It’s quite an exciting topic. However, there were a small number of articles around societal impact and family impact. And I think these are quite interesting. And they’re quite pertinent, because it is quite a family disease.
It’s not just the person who has dementia that lives through it. It’s everybody in the family and their extended network. So it’s quite an important subject to talk about. I was really hoping with this work that we could get a better understanding of what we were doing currently so that we could advise people on how they should maybe making small changes to the way that they’re putting out news articles so that they were more positive for people with dementia and also, perhaps more informative. So some of the headlines that go out are quite sensationalist. And often, they’re not true in isolation.
And there are simple changes that can be made that can really help people with dementia have a more sort of positive glean from those articles, I’d say.

This step explains a recent analysis that was carried out to analyse, assess and compare how a selection of different UK newspapers talk about the dementias.

Watch Dr Nicholas Firth discuss some of the trends that were identified as a result of this study, both in terms of terminology and themes.

What do you feel are the most common themes that newspapers report on when they write about dementia? Would you prefer to see them reporting using different angles? What would you find most useful to read about? Share your thoughts in the comments.

CREDITS Images and graphics courtesy of: * Nicholas Firth/ UCL.
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Dementia and the Arts: Sharing Practice, Developing Understanding and Enhancing Lives

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