One important myth to overturn another


By Hilary Evans | Wednesday 29 November 2017

A couple of years ago, Alzheimer’s Research UK launched its first-ever awareness advertising campaign, with an arresting and urgent film designed to shake society by the lapels in how it thinks about dementia. This is a condition that is hamstrung by decades of sweeping under the carpet; seldom talked-about and frequently misunderstood.

In recent years, we have seen awareness in dementia improve dramatically, to the point that dementia is frequently cited as the health issue of most concern to the over 50s. As we’ve blogged about before, and as our late great Patron Sir Terry Pratchett said himself, while we are more aware than ever of the threat of dementia, as a society we continue to misunderstand its true nature, and this is what’s fundamentally holding us back.

The prevailing misconception that dementia is an inevitability that comes with age, and the lack of understanding of the physical diseases that drive it, conspire to breed fatalism. There’s nothing we can do about getting older, so there’s nothing we can do about dementia.

Our award-winning #sharetheorange campaign began tackling this point last year – demonstrating with the simple visual analogy of an unpeeling orange that physical diseases drive dementia, and physical diseases can be fought, slowed and stopped.

Santa Forgot

As successful as the campaign was, with decades of stigma and sticks grasped from the wrong end, the job of turning the mind-set around will continue to take time and a bold approach. If #sharetheorange gave us the confidence to be bold, our Christmas Campaign – Santa Forgot – continues on this path. Watch the film before reading on.

We didn’t undertake Santa Forgot lightly, and before we went anywhere near Aardman Animations’ drawing boards, we undertook extensive research with the public to make sure we had their permission to use an important cultural icon in this way. The support for the provocative idea was overwhelming, with respondents agreeing the challenge of dementia was of a sufficient magnitude to demand we be thought-provoking and challenging.

Dementia can be a tough issue to discuss, particularly for families affected right now. We’re extremely careful with who we are directing the campaign at, only promoting to adult audiences on Facebook and YouTube. But it was interesting that some of the parents involved in our campaign research felt the film might help begin to broach conversations with children who perhaps are seeing family relations affected by the condition. We also looked specifically at helping young people to engage with dementia earlier this year when we launched our Dementia Explained website.

Santa Forgot, like #sharetheorange, once again makes the important point that physical diseases like Alzheimer’s are behind dementia, in this case through the simple visual analogy of broken cogs in a Santa doll. The film also speaks clearly to the idea that dementia doesn’t discriminate, and those most special in our lives can be affected. Last year the film was shared widely, reaching nearly 14 million people and resulted in a hugely positive response from people who agreed with the bold message it delivered.


We worked with people affected by dementia to make sure we make these points as sensitively as possible, and as we launch this campaign, we will monitor the reaction carefully. As ever, you can tell us what you think via our Facebook and Twitter channels, and if Santa Forgot speaks to you, pass it on to your friends and family however you can.

We lead busy lives, with many messages – some more worthy than others – bombarding us every day. Our job is to encourage people to take a moment to consider dementia, to educate on its nature, and hopefully, to inspire action. More than ever, we have to go about this job as creatively as possible to stand out and resonate with people. Before we can ever break through against dementia in the lab, we first have to break through decades of our own stigma.

People with dementia need us to think differently – and we must challenge the myth that dementia is inevitable. Santa Forgot allows us to use one important myth to overturn another.


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About the author

Hilary Evans

Hilary is Chief Executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK, which is a charity working at a global level to find a cure for dementia. The organisation’s aim is to raise awareness of the diseases that cause dementia, to increase dementia research funding and improve the environment for dementia scientists in the UK and internationally.