A man with dementia reading a magazine

How to spot (and challenge) negative language in the media

The media has a big role to play in shaping how society thinks about dementia. Find out you can help challenge negative language and harmful stereotypes.

Our new Dementia-friendly media and broadcast guide calls on journalists and broadcasters to change the conversation around dementia. 

Media outlets like newspapers do vital work, whether it's reporting the latest research or giving a platform to people affected by dementia. But there are also times when they get it wrong.

The way we talk about dementia matters. Using the wrong words or painting an inaccurate picture when reporting can impact how people with dementia feel about themselves. It can also influence how other people think about dementia. Using the right words, in contrast, can have a positive impact on how people living with the condition feel and how society thinks about dementia.

That's why we've created a Dementia-friendly media and broadcast guide to encourage positive language across the industry. To change how dementia is seen in wider society we’ve also published our guide to talking about dementia for anyone to use. These guides are important starting points. But to really change the language the media use around dementia, we all need to take action to spot and challenge negative language.

'What we hear influences what we think, this influences how we behave and this of course can have a huge impact on those around us. Connect with our positive language guide, challenge negativity and lead the way to creating a world where people affected by dementia feel they can participate!' - Cathy Baldwin, Organisational Development Manager at Alzheimer's Society

How to spot negative language

There are some important basic principles to follow when writing about dementia. These include avoiding the below terms where possible:

  • Sufferer or victim – a diagnosis of dementia doesn’t define anyone and we should never label people with dementia. Use ‘people (or person) living with dementia’ instead.
  • Senile, pre-senile or demented – these outdated words disempower people with dementia by making them seem passive, childlike, or worthy of pity.
  • Away with the fairies’ or ‘not all there’ – these slang expressions and others are derogatory and very insulting to people with dementia.
  • Burden – this dehumanises someone, and makes them out to be nothing more than a drain on time and resources rather than a person.
  • Hopeless or tragic – it is important to be realistic about dementia while not being overly pessimistic or frightening. Use words like ‘challenging’, ‘life-changing’ or ‘stressful’ instead.

Of course, a person with dementia may identify and describe themselves as a sufferer or suffering with the condition, and that is their right to do so. It is also important to recognise the suffering and difficulties that carers face, especially when their voices are often hidden in society.

The issue comes when all people with dementia are labelled in the same way. As one person with dementia told us, ‘some days I am suffering but that doesn’t mean that all I am is a sufferer and nothing more’.

5 ways to challenge negative stereotypes in the media

Readers, listeners and viewers have huge power over the media they consume. Often it's hearing directly from audiences that drives media outlets to respond or reinforces their need to change.

If you see outdated stereotypes or negative language, let companies know how it impacts you and people affected by dementia. The media is governed by codes of conduct, standards and editorial guidelines. It also starts a contract process internally which means they have to respond and will take into account in future reporting.

Contact your local newspaper, radio station or TV and ask them to download and use our Dementia-friendly media and broadcast guide. If you feel they have breached the rules above then you can make your voice heard via the channels below:

  1. Complain about a printed or online publication. Print newspapers and magazines including online editions are expected to adhere to the Editor’s Code of Practice, regulated by Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO). If you feel an article contains factual inaccuracies, you can complain through their process on the IPSO website.
  2. Complain about a broadcast. Broadcasters across TV, radio, apps and video on demand are regulated by Ofcom or use individual channels' editorial guidelines or complaints procedures. Complain to Ofcom through the Ofcom website, or directly to the BBC and Channel 4.
  3. Challenge on social media. Use social media to challenge the writer or publication if you think they are behaving in a stigmatising and discriminatory way. This is a quick way to get a response and can encourage other supporters to get behind the issue.
  4. Write a letter. Write a private letter to the editor, commissioner or producer of the outlet explaining the impact the piece has had and what they can do going forward.
  5. Complain about an advert. Contact the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) on their website – all advertisers are regulated by the ASA.
Read our guides to positive language

We're encouraging everyone to read our guide to positive language and why it's important, or download our dementia-friendly media guide for journalists and broadcasters. 

Download positive language guide Download media guide
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