Summary: Television coverage of Alzheimer’s has increased dramatically, but tends to emphasize treatments and personal and celebrity stories over less sensational facts. However, increased use of celebrities, along with expanding coverage in entertainment programs, may help publicize fact-based awareness and prevention campaigns.
Researchers at the University of Texas at San Antonio have published an interesting analysis of television coverage of Alzheimer’s news in the United States. Television is still the major source of news for Americans, they say, and shapes how we view Alzheimer’s.
Looking at 1371 television news transcripts from 1984 to 2008, the researchers found that coverage has increased dramatically. News pieces during this period emphasized treatments, personal stories, celebrities and policies. Facts, causes, signs and diagnosis received much less coverage. Fact-based awareness and risk reduction efforts by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) were not covered much at all.
Why so little emphasis on facts? “It is related to the survival of the news media in this competitive media market environment,” says Seok Kang, Assistant Professor of New Media at the University of Texas at San Antonio and co-author of the analysis.
Is celebrity involvement part of the problem? Not necessarily, says Dr. Kang. He points out that President Reagan’s diagnosis and death dramatically increased news coverage of Alzheimer’s. More research is needed, he says, but this kind of celebrity involvement can be helpful in publicizing fact-based news.
If the goal is to increase coverage for fact-based public awareness and prevention campaigns like the CDC’s Healthy Brain Initiative, Dr. Kang thinks even more celebrities should be recruited, and they should appear in government-led campaigns. He also applauds the trend towards expanding awareness efforts outside of news programs. “The best way [to increase coverage] is to make more entertainment education programs in the forms of drama, reality shows, or other entertainment or information talk shows,” he says. “TV dramas such as ER and Grey’s Anatomy can cover the AD issue in nonfiction-based fictional stories.”