How many TV programmes have you watched about cancer? Probably hundreds. Over the years, countless ground-breaking documentaries, addressing all kinds of issues about treatments and attitudes towards the disease, have successfully raised public understanding and awareness of cancer. Dramas too have captured the cancer journey in great detail and from a great many perspectives – and rightly so. As a result, our understanding and knowledge of cancer has grown rapidly. So it’s heartening to see that dementia is becoming part of our TV schedules as well. The BBC in particular is making great efforts to show Alzheimer’s and other dementias in ways that don’t perpetuate the same old negative stereotypes.
Experts, celebrities and people living with dementia all seem to agree. Last month they came together at the University of Salford, to discuss how dementia is portrayed in the media. TV star Christopher Eccleston, who attended the event explained: ‘The way dementia is presented on TV and in the news has a huge effect on people’s perception. So it’s vitally important that we encourage people in the media to get it right.’
Here’s a few ways the BBC seems to be doing exactly that:
1 – A life affirming documentary
Young children do seem to have a special way of capturing the hearts and minds of the older generation. Perhaps that’s why the BBC documentary The Toddlers Who Took on Dementia has been such a tonic for everyone who’s seen it.
The documentary follows an experiment, during which toddlers from a local nursery shared time, activities and chats with adults at a local day centre. The adults were in their 70s and 80s and had dementia,
Watching the group of lively three and four-year olds stroll into a dementia day care centre and make friends with everyone they met, was a truly life-affirming sight which moved many viewers to tears and showed how powerful the relationship between young and old can be.
Despite an age gap of eight decades or so, everyone taking part in this bold TV experiment clearly had a great time – for some, it even proved to be life changing. One lady with Alzheimer’s hadn’t spoken a word since her diagnosis in 2012. But after a few hours ‘playing’ with the children she asks; ‘when will you be coming back?’ …
The experiment, led by three psychologists from Bangor University, was deemed such a success that it’s become a regular fortnightly visit – and one that everyone involved looks forward to.
2 – A gritty drama with a star-studded cast
It isn’t only documentaries that are making a difference to the way dementia is presented on TV. News that critically acclaimed writer Jimmy McGovern (creator of Broken, Hillsborough and Cracker) has written a new 90 minute drama called Care about a family struggling with dementia has been widely welcomed. The drama has an impressive cast including Sheridan Smith who plays a single mum raising two children with the help of her mother Mary (Alison Steadman). When Mary has a stroke and develops dementia, everything starts to fall apart. Described as a ‘poignant story with warmth and gravitas’ the drama tells the story of a woman’s battle to get the best care for her mother – a subject which is bound to resonate with many visitors to Unforgettable…
Care is currently being shot in Liverpool and should be screened later this year.
3 – Free reminiscence TV
The BBC also has a free vintage archive for people with dementia to enjoy. If you’re caring for a loved one and struggling to find something to watch, this fabulous archive could provide the answer. It contains more than 1,500 vintage TV clips, audio clips and images from the 1930’s onwards. Watch a very young David Attenborough meet a gorilla or watch highlights from The Goon Show or The Generation Game. It could trigger some happy memories and conversations for everyone.
PLUS: Real stories about dementia
Comic and writer David Baddiel discussed his father’s dementia on BBC Radio 4 last week, during Desert Island Discs. It’s always good to hear someone talk honestly about their own experience of dementia and David Baddiel certainly does that. He also happens to be very funny too..