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Type: Theses
Title: Mind your mind: representations of dementia risk prevention in news and digital media
Author: Lawless, Michael
Issue Date: 2018
School/Discipline: School of Psychology
Abstract: This thesis presents a discourse analysis of representations of dementia risk and prevention in news and digital media. Dementia presents a major public health concern in many countries with expanding elderly populations, and is associated with significant costs to individuals, families, and societies. Currently, there is no known cure for any type of dementia. Public health efforts relating to the primary prevention of neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease have focused on increasing awareness of a range of risk and protective factors. Such efforts have involved encouraging participation in a range of health and lifestyle practices, including diet, physical activity, social activity, and cognitive activity (e.g., reading, playing board games, learning a musical instrument, brain training). Claims about the possibility of cognitive enhancement and dementia risk-prevention via modification of lifestyle-related risk factors have attracted considerable media attention. However, scientific evidence for the effectiveness of engaging in such practices in terms of decreased dementia risk is mixed. Claims regarding the nature of brain plasticity in later life have also been questioned. Data in this thesis comprise a sample of Australian newspaper articles, material published on the websites of dementia organisations, and posts in a Facebook conversation about dementia risk and prevention. The studies presented in the four analytical chapters of this thesis explore how media representations routinely construct engagement in brain enhancement and dementia risk-prevention activities as a normative course of action, and how such representations work to position audience members as individually responsible for risk-management. The analysis focuses on the discursive resources and rhetorical practices routinely deployed in newspaper articles, the websites of dementia organisations, and social media to construct and manage such issues. Study One examines representations of the topics of dementia risk-prevention, cognitive enhancement, and neuroplasticity in a sample of Australian newspaper articles. Specifically, the analysis focuses on constructions of the concept of neuroplasticity as a scientific breakthrough, with promising health implications for the prevention of cognitive decline and dementia. Promissory representations of neuroplasticity and its related technologies are argued to contribute to constructing the normativity of participation in practices that are claimed to enhance cognitive performance in older age and prevent the onset of dementia. Study Two builds on the results of the first study by examining the construction of advice about cognitive enhancement and dementia risk-prevention in Australian newspaper articles. The analysis describes two routine advice-giving formulations that were repeatedly used to represent the development of age-related cognitive decline and dementia as consequences of individual action. It is argued that such advice formulations serve to attribute responsibility and blame for the development of dementia to individuals and their practices. Conclusions offer reflections on how social norms and expectations about brain health in old age are constructed and treated as accountable in news media. Study Three examines online health information about dementia risk and prevention published on the websites of eight non-profit dementia organisations. The analysis focuses on the repeated positioning of audience members as being at-risk for developing dementia and as individually responsible for dementia risk-management. It is argued that this positioning serves to warrant related proposals about participation in cognitive enhancement and dementia risk-prevention practices, and establishes a moral identity in which an ethic of self-responsibility and risk-management is central. Study Four explores how a Facebook Page is used as a platform for the exchange of information and advice about dementia prevention and risk-management. Specifically, the analysis explores the routine framing of requests for information or for advice on the official Facebook Page of a popular Australian TV current-affairs program. Problem descriptions that included reference to notions of family history, genetic predisposition, or personal experience of dementia symptoms served to warrant posters’ requests for information or advice. Such posts constructed self-monitoring, ‘at-risk’ identities in relation to dementia risk-management. Implications of the findings for health communication, health promotion, and identity management on social media platforms are explored. In the concluding chapter, implications of the results are discussed. Specifically, I consider how such media representation can contribute to the prescription of actions, as well as ‘at-risk’, self-monitoring, or responsible identities in relation to brain health and dementia risk-management. Implications for health promotion, health and social policy, and service provision are also discussed. The findings presented in this thesis contribute to developing understandings of how contemporary representations of the health issue of dementia can work to promote an ethic of self-responsibility for brain health in older age. The findings also provide insight into the health and illness identities that are routinely made available in relation to issues of cognitive ageing and dementia risk-prevention.
Advisor: Augoustinos, Martha
Le Couteur, Amanda Jane
Dissertation Note: Thesis (Ph.D.) (Research by Publication) -- University of Adelaide, School of Psychology, 2018.
Keywords: dementia
media representations
discourse analysis
prevention
risk
Research by Publication
Provenance: This electronic version is made publicly available by the University of Adelaide in accordance with its open access policy for student theses. Copyright in this thesis remains with the author. This thesis may incorporate third party material which has been used by the author pursuant to Fair Dealing exceptions. If you are the owner of any included third party copyright material you wish to be removed from this electronic version, please complete the take down form located at: http://www.adelaide.edu.au/legals
DOI: 10.25909/5b639f380685e
Appears in Collections:Research Theses

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