Not all jokes about dementia are funny, or welcome. We want to make sure hurtful comments about dementia become a thing of the past. Here we suggest 5 ways to help fight the stigma associated with dementia.
World Alzheimer’s Month takes place every September. It is a global opportunity to raise awareness, provide support and demystify dementia.
This year's theme is stigma, which is a degrading attitude of one person towards another. This might be because of their gender, race, religion, physical appearance or abilities.
Stigma is a form of discrimination. Many people affected by dementia tell us that they have experienced stigma at some point after a diagnosis.
Here are a few different things that may occur:
- ‘I don’t want to catch dementia.’
Family members may distance themselves since hearing the news of a diagnosis
- ‘I don’t know what to say, so I’ll stay away.’
Friends may no longer make contact or want to meet up following a dementia diagnosis
- ‘You don’t look like you’ve got dementia.’
Comments made by members of the public, in the street, in shops, on public transport
Fighting dementia stigma online
We are regularly contacted by people affected by dementia who tell us about their own experiences of stigma, similar to the examples above.
One type of stigma that has become more common are unkind ‘jokes’ and comments made on social media.
These normally refer to someone now having dementia (whether it be themselves or someone else) because they forgot to do or say something.
Here’s a recent tweet we received from someone making a ‘joke’:
This is just one of the many hurtful, thoughtless comments and jokes we see online and is a type of stigma that has largely gone unchallenged. Inappropriate, often offensive comments like this only increase the stigma connected to dementia and a diagnosis.
Humour as a coping mechanism
While we want to challenge unkind or hurtful jokes, we understand that family members, friends and carers of someone living with dementia can also use jokes and humour as a way of coping with how they feel.
Supporters get in contact to tell us about the lighthearted, sometimes funny moments of living with a diagnosis. We encourage them to continue to talk about times like these.
Every experience of dementia is different – we understand and respect that.
The types of jokes we want to challenge are the tasteless, misinformed comments made about dementia, or people living with the condition. These only heighten the stigma associated with dementia and can have a negative impact on those affected who may read them.
5 ways to help break the dementia stigma
If you experience ignorant comments or unkind jokes, you may feel like you want to correct or educate the person making them.
Here are our tips on how to help us break the stigma associated with hurtful dementia ‘jokes’:
1. See the person, not the dementia
Remind the person telling the joke that dementia is not the defining aspect of a person, their personality, or their life.
2. It's not funny for everybody
Ask them how a person with dementia would feel about their comment if they saw or heard it. What one person may find funny can quickly cause offence for someone else.
3. Unkind jokes contribute to the stigma
Explain that ignorant comments and jokes only increase the stigma around dementia. By telling the joke, they are making it harder to break the stigma for people affected by dementia now and in the future.
4. Don't spread wrong information
Many hurtful jokes rely on stereotypes, misinformation and myths. Let the person know that they can find accurate, reliable information about dementia from the Alzheimer’s Society website, and real, personal stories from our blog.
5. Be open to learn more
Encourage them to find out more and become one of our Dementia Friends. Our Dementia Friends initiative is the largest in the UK, helping change the way the public thinks, feels and talks about dementia. Attending a Dementia Friends Information Session is a good way of learning more and changing behaviours.
Become a Dementia Friend today
We urgently need to create a climate of kindness and understanding, so that everyone affected by dementia feels part of, not apart from, society.