The War Against Dementia

Are We Battle Weary Yet?

Heather Patricia Lane; SueAnne McLachlan; Jennifer Philip


Age Ageing. 2013;42(3):281-283. 

In This Article

The Use of Military Metaphors in Dementia

The profile of dementia and Alzheimer's disease and funding for research in these areas has been raised in recent years. Campaigns using military metaphors may well have contributed to this success in this traditionally poorly understood and under-resourced area.

However, at an individual level a chronic illness such as dementia is arguably not usefully conceived as a battle. First, no curative treatments are available as 'arsenal'. Secondly, many people with dementia are older and face other medical conditions or disability. These people may not be in a position to 'fight'.

Dementia requires individualised multidisciplinary care focused on supporting the individual and their family or community network. However, military metaphors encourage disease focused, doctor led care. Future planning is a core component of dementia care, as this progressive illness is likely to limit capacity to make decisions at some point. Military metaphors focus on the immediate 'fight' and may impede conversations about the future. Additionally, fighting metaphors may leave some individuals feeling they have 'lost' as the disease progresses, an unnecessary burden for someone facing illness and disability. Finally, from a broader perspective, focus on 'battling' dementia, may distract from discussion about how our communities best care for and support an increasing number of people with dementia and their families as the population ages.

The adoption of military metaphors in healthcare may aid in raising awareness of illnesses and in fundraising. However, the metaphors we use in medicine potentially influence the way we and our patients conceptualise illness and treatment.[8] Therefore, consideration must be taken in their use to ensure individual harms are not forgotten.