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A blog post by Prof. June Anderson

You’ve seen “new stories” about “the latest” in dementia care. No surprise when it turns out to be a bit of technology or an intervention that many of us have known about for years. It is not an innovation, or real news. It seemed to be news, or innovation to the editor of the TV show, or the newspaper. So, it makes the cut into the show. It is just fashion. Not innovation.

New recommendations have come from the WHO about dementia risk reduction which supports what we’ve been saying for a long time – be moderate with alcohol, take exercise, don’t smoke, manage blood pressure and cholesterol, eat well, keep a healthy weight, manage hearing loss, treat depression and diabetes. Now this advice is backed by research and the health organisation with the highest global authority. Doing these things to delay risk is not “news” – the news is that the World Health Organisation has done the research and is lending its weight to spreading these well-known strategies. Everyone needs to know this.

So why has there not been much about the WHO guidance in the media? It’s because it is rather dull, really. Not as much fun as running a restaurant with people who have dementia, or a choir of people with dementia or throwing a kindergarten in amongst them and filming what happens. These things are so interesting they’ll get a whole TV series to themselves. The fashion in dementia broadcasting is for quirky exposure or celebrity endorsement.

I think the important question to shout from the rooftops is “How are we going to implement the things we already know?” This is a serious question for policymakers and politicians. We haven’t implemented what we already know. We’d rather have people with dementia paraded before us and be put through the emotional wringer with them. And that lets the broadcasters say, “Now we’ve “done” dementia for this year.” There’s no room in the schedule for public health information.

We’ve been distracted and it has been displaced by infotainment.

I got ambushed by a condescending man in the audience after I had talked about this at a conference recently. I had been pointing out that everyone is talking about singing for the brain as therapy and making the obvious point that there’s nothing about singing in the WHO guidelines. I had been clear that art and singing are vital for life itself, and I wish they could cure everything including cancer, but to label them as “dementia therapies” distracts the media, policymakers and politicians away from those things for which there IS evidence. That’s why they’re not in the WHO guidelines. They are a valuable distraction but that’s NOT what “therapy” is supposed to mean. During the coffee break, this rather haughty man who seems to have an influence on a national scale swished past me to say that people sitting near him thought I was dismissive of music.

His mistake. I don’t succumb to hit-and-run sideswipes. I kept him with me for long enough to repeat that what I want to dismiss is the idea that singing is on par with the things recommended by the WHO. It’s a nice (perhaps even vital) distraction for people with dementia and their carers. It is a fatal distraction for the people who should and could be doing more. Advocacy organisations should not be setting fashions. They should be working to make people implement what we already know.

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