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What to say when someone makes an unkind joke about dementia

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’:

Example of a joke tweet

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 challenge unkind dementia jokes

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.

Sign up
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44 comments

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I hate when family members make a fool out of my husband when he’s suffering from dementia. I don’t find cruel things funny. I guess I can wait for karma

My husband has dementia early stages love him dearly but I get so angry with him when he goes the wrong way or does something wrong,i tri not to be so agresif but it hurts to see a clever man that can’t do the littlest things anymore,

Currently dealing with an outsider trying to be an insider, yet continuously makes fun of my grandmother - ESPECIALLY when her memory is slipping. Not okay at all. Prayers for anyone else with a family member with one of these diseases, and praying even more for those actually effected.

My mother of 61 has Alzheimer's, early/middle stage, I guess. I always feel so hurt when a relative who knows her condition comes over to me in a mockery tone saying how he or she talked to my mother and she had no idea why we were all gathering at day x (someone's birthday party) or how she asked 20 times the same question in a social gathering... I reply: It's normal that she acted like that, it's called Alzheimer's Disease. I wish I had an answer that wasn't as passive-aggressive as this one. I just feel that the others are being so disrespectfull and unkind that I need to protect my mother from the harms of the world.

Sometimes though a bit of humour is the one thing that helps us through. I think it really depends on what is being said by whom. My lovely dad had Alzheimer's and prostrate cancer, he passed away 7 years ago now. My mum cared for him and she now too has Alzheimer's and is an amazing care home. My ex husband has a brain tumour and a type of dementia from this he is also in a care home. If I didn't sometimes have a bit of humour I don't know how I would get through this. I am sure that they would all want me to find the best way to cope and keep going. Dementia is the most devastating illness and my heart goes out to everyone living with it in their lives.

I think it will be very important for people to understand more about it,read more about it,be kind and helpfull is not that hard.
I use to work in a dementia unit amd I loved and respected every single one.
And I miss it very much.
Lots of love for the ones who live with dementia
Xx
Alexandra

The most hurtful thing I have found and don’t understand is my wife’s daughter ( lives 6 miles away) comes to see/take her out for 3-4 hours every three weeks. I literally am the full time carer.

I lost my husband a little over a year ago....after a 15 year battle of deterioration. The one comment that makes me cringe is when after a forgetful moment, a healthy person remarks, "I'm having an Alzheimer moment." My answer is always the same: " No you're not."

There can be humour without unkindness, as long as you laugh with the person and not at them. Invariably it brings a smile to their face too

Have a relative tell another relative that the only way to deal with Alzheimer's is to get rid of themselves. Hurts when you are caring for the one relative with Alzheimer's.

I have early onset Alzheimer's disease. I am 57. All my family and friends, just accept me in every way. We laugh when I get things wrong, of course I get it wrong, that's part of the disease, you can't change it. Sometimes I can't stop laughing at myself. In fact everyone can understand me, more or less because they know me. For example playing games like "charades". When I play, you have to let me go first, otherwise I'd never get a go, ha ha. I am very lucky because I we always try to keep things light, I have an amazing support, group with careers and family. Obviously I get the bad days. Remember that I am still me and at every step we deal with whatever comes our way. Alzheimer's needs to be dealt with day by day and this is how we deal with it. Don't worry about tomorrow, we just have to see what brings another day.

I try to be positive. The only way I can do this, is accepting this disease. We can't change it. Do all the things you want to do. Every one has bad days. Let's concentrate on the GOOD days.

Very sad readings bings tears to my eyes. My wife
Been four years with this ilness hate to look a head iam 92 now I dread leaving her

The thing I find hardest is that I get so frustated and loose my temper, and then feel awful.
I'm trying hard to make life as simple as possible so I don't get so tired..
But it's not just physical, I've had to take over all the finances and internet banking, and then cook dinner!
I love my husband dearly, but it's hard work!!

I lost my mum to rare genetic (spontaneous mutation, neither of her parents or sisters had this gene and they aren't even 100% sure this gene caused the disease as they've not seen it in any other cases) early onset Alzheimers 2 years ago when she was 47 (just two years post diagnosis). Telling my friends she was dying was had enough, then moving cities, having to find a new doctor (they're always kind and understanding right?) to visit for my prescriptions and when gathering my medical history (was really fresh still, only a couple of months) was asked "are you sure your mum had Alzheimers? That's SO young" (she felt a need to point this out to me like it was something I hadn't considered or thought of myself, gee thanks) Needless to say, never went back there. But what scares me the most about my 50/50 chance of also dying this young is that no one will believe that I have Alzheimers because "you're so young" and "Alzheimers is for old people". Hopefully within the next 30 odd years this problem is solved so my sister and I, should we be affected, don't have to go through the disbelief my mother witnessed when telling people

My husband has dementia . He has suffered for 7 .years , I cared for him at home til May this year when I was so exhausted , he went into emergency care .
He is still in care home but I have bn having him home regular lately and am trying to get a better care package at home for him . I miss him so much . Remember ! The person is still there fighting against the awful disease , live in the moment x hold your loved ones hand , comfort them . And get some respite for yourself x
Dementia is no laughing matter

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