The future of dementia is orange

TBH LP - Image 4
TBH LP - Image 4

By Hilary Evans-Newton | Monday 18 January 2016

Hopefully you’ve had the chance to take a look at our thought-provoking new campaign film #sharetheorange featuring Alzheimer’s Research UK supporter Christopher Eccleston. Why have we taken this unusual approach to communication? And what’s with the orange?

There’s a simple answer to the first question: if there’s one health issue that would benefit from different way of thinking, it’s dementia. Society’s relationship to the condition is plagued by fatalism, misunderstanding and fear. It’s our job as one of the world’s leading dementia charities to tackle these issues head on, and it’s a role we take seriously. But it’s not easy – the battle to help people think differently about dementia is a tough one to win, so ingrained are decades-old misconceptions. But we’re not afraid of tough challenges, we’re in brain research after all.

So our way of thinking differently about communicating dementia is to try to reduce a complex area down to a simple visual metaphor. As my previous posts on the blog have explained, we’re always talking to supporters and the general public about dementia and how they relate to it. A recent round of this kind of research revealed that people are crying out for a simple symbol that captures the essence of dementia in a way anyone can understand. And this leads us to the orange itself…

Only around a quarter of people recognise that dementia is caused by physical and destructive diseases, most commonly Alzheimer’s. This leaves a great many people unclear about why dementia occurs and what’s going on in the brain of their loved one. It’s just crossed wires. It’s just age. It just happens. These are opinions that lead too many of us accept dementia as an inevitable. We are collectively taking it lying down.

In fact, the physicality of Alzheimer’s and other dementia-causing diseases is stark. Alzheimer’s shrinks the brain at 400% the rate of normal ageing. A brain affected by the disease can weigh around 140g less than a healthy brain. That’s about the weight of an orange. As Christopher says in the film, while scary, this does clearly make the point that we’re dealing with a disease physical process in the same way as heart disease or cancer. We know what can be achieved through research in these areas. Great things.

But nobody will be ready to believe that research can prevail against dementia until we have a shared understanding of the enemy. So one of the best ways you can fight dementia in an instant is to #sharetheorange and join us in looking at dementia – a defeatable enemy – in a new light.

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About the author

Hilary Evans-Newton

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.