How Alzheimer's is reported: Badly

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Posted on: 18 January 2011 by Alexander Hay

A quick glance of the news reveals how awful coverage of this condition, and our attitudes towards it, can be...

What does media coverage of Alzheimer's Disease say about our attitudes towards the condition these days? A look at some recent headlines does not shower us with glory.

Take for example, claims that Ronald Reagan may have been suffering from early stages of the disease during his Presidency. The implication – that the world was endangered because the United States was being run by a debilitating illness – is insulting enough, though the satyriasisincompetence and impotence of his successors might be more worrying. 

An equally depressing story from Toronto, Canada, where a 66 year old woman with Alzheimer's froze to death while her neighbours did nothing. Leaving aside whether the story would have been reported if she was otherwise healthy, it does seem to suggest that not all diseases are treated equally – would she have been better treated if her condition was more visible, or publicised?

One way to be visible if you've got Alzheimer's is to be famous, as is the case with the 95-year-old ex-politician Sargent Shriver, also known as Arnold Schwarzenegger's father-in-law. Tellingly, the story reveals that details have not been released, as to be expected with a stigmatised condition. Then the article starts talking about the far more interesting subject of Arnold's film career. After all, you've got to get your priorities right.

The coverage isn't always as flippant, though. The death of Lady Irene English from the condition is surprisingly kind and measured. Of course, she was married to the Daily Mail's former editor...

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Alexander Hay

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