Love’s Not Enough

Since its release in 1967, The Beatles’ All You Need Is Love has been adopted as the anthem for everything from the anti-war movement to a Las Vegas casino.  And now an article published in The Australian wants us to believe it’s also a good anthem for dementia.

In an article titled Dementia: A scourge that only love can overcome, Trent Dalton presents the moving story of Brian Sands, a man doing everything he can to keep the love alive as his wife’s dementia progresses. I’m a big believer in the power of stories. To paraphrase Brene Brown, stories give soul to data. They help us to understand what it means when we say “320,000 Australians are living with dementia” or “200,000 Australians identify themselves as the primary carer for a family member with dementia”. But stories without data are just anecdotes and anecdotes don’t change research, policy, or practice. Neither does love.

Love doesn’t pay for respite care when you’ve used up the measly 63 days supported by the Government.

Love doesn’t stop you from contemplating suicide when the physical and psychological toll of caring is more than you can bear.

Love doesn’t pay a researcher’s salary while they search for a cure, a treatment, or better care.

Love doesn’t make aged care a more attractive place to work.

And love doesn’t make it any easier to come to terms with a diagnosis of dementia.

Although Dalton’s article honours the experience of Brian and Rosemary, it is simply bad journalism to present a story of dementia without mentioning some facts and figures. Like the fact that the demand for family carers in Australia will exceed supply by 2029. Or the fact that without significant policy change there will be a shortage of nearly 60,000 staff in Australian aged care facilities within two decades. Or the fact that the Abbott Government’s $200 million for dementia research is just spare change compared with what’s actually needed to find cures, treatments, and better models of care.

Media articles that focus only on individual stories contribute to a social and political view of dementia as a personal issue. A matter for families to deal with; in the privacy of their own homes. This is a view that makes it easy for governments to tell themselves (and voters) that they are doing enough. But dementia is not a personal issue. It is a social, political, and economic one, and we ignore it at our peril.

People with dementia, family carers, and researchers deserve better from the Government and they certainly deserve better from newspapers and journalists. If we want an anthem for dementia, let’s look to The King: A little less conversation, a little more action please.