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Fighting dementia on the big screen

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Fighting dementia on the big screen

It’s not only the makers of the new film, Iron Lady, that struck box office gold securing the number one national screen average on Boxing Day 2011.

Consumer advocacy group, Alzheimer’s Australia, also reaped its share of cinematic glory from the movie, having slotted a ‘Fight Dementia’ advertisement right before screenings of the film in selected cinemas across Sydney and Melbourne.

The advertisement – featuring a call to action from media personality and Alzheimer’s Australia president, Ita Butrose,CEO, Glenn Rees, and other spokespeople – marks the organisation’s reinvigorated charge for change in 2012 and forms part of its new Christmas/New Year campaign to raise awareness about and secure guaranteed funding for dementia.

Cleverly placed in front of the movie, which Icon Film Distribution estimated took in almost $2 million in its first four days of screening, the advertisement tied in with the message behind the film about the former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher and her battle with dementia.

Portraying the ex-politician in a warmer, more humane light than she was known for during her career, the film portrays what the disease actually looks like, while reinforcing the fact that dementia can affect anyone, regardless of their wealth or social standing.

National policy manager for Alzheimer’s Australia, Ellen Skladzien, said the pre-film advertisement sent a strong message of need to audiences, who were already interested in the issue of dementia or were yet to realise its importance after watching the film.

According to Ms Skladzien, it was a case of “great timing”, with the movie presenting a “good opportunity to get the message about dementia out to a wider audience”.

“There is so much stigma associated with dementia,” Ms Skladzien said.

“People just don’t know how to respond to disease. So making dementia part of the community conversation will really have benefits for people who have dementia and their families and friends.”

Alzheimer’s ‘Fight Dementia’ campaign was launched late last year, when the federal government announced it would cease specific dementia funding from 2013. Since then, the Department of Health and Ageing has collapsed all exisiting health funding streams into a new funding system – a health and aged care flexible funding pool – which means the organisation will need to compete with others for money.

Alzheimer's Australia wants the Commonwealth to restore dementia as a National Health Priority, guarantee continual funding, and provide $500 million over five years to address key concerns and fight the disease.

In December 2011, Mr Rees and Ms Butrose met with Prime Minister Julia Gillard to discuss the campaign.

Alzheimer’s Australia also released a half page ‘Fight Dementia’ campaign advertisement in The Australian early this year.

The national organisation then topped off the campaign strategy with a New Year’s YouTube video about the struggle that the 1.2 million carers of people living with dementia face daily in the absence of extra government funding (to view the video, click here).

The video strikes an emotive chord, as carers tell of their own resolutions for 2012 – most wish to be able to better endure the impact the disease has on their own wellbeing and on the life of the person living with dementia – while the traditional New Year’s song of hope and reflection, Auld Lang Syne, plays in the background.

The New Year resolutions include: “To put one foot in front of the other”; “To be able to continue and have patience and tolerance and good health for myself so that I can continue to look after Brian”; “To encourage all of my friends and family to become dementia champions”; “I’d like to see a national program, aggressive program put in place fast to get this thing under some degree of control”.

At the end of the final resolution, a message from Alzheimer's Australila scrolls across the screen: “So do we”.

“We call on the federal government to make a new year’s resolution of its own,” the screen then reads.

“To make 2012 a year to remember. Australia needs $500 million over five years to address the dementia epidemic.

“Happy New Year. Help make it one to remember. Become a dementia champion.”

Ms Skladzien said the aim of the social media video was arm viewers with more information about the disease but also, to encourage them “to really start thinking about how dementia affects people”.

“The responses are not scripted,” Ms Skladzien said.

“They are real carers.

“[This issue] is an emotional thing, so [our approach this time around ] was a combined one of raising awareness and tapping into what people hoped for for the New Year.

“We know that about 1.2 million people are caring for someone with dementia. That is a huge number. So it’s important for us to remember what their hopes are and what kind of support they are looking for.

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