Background: Populations worldwide are aging and the overall prevalence of dementia at death is now 30%. Since the contemporary social impact of a disease is indicated by the frequency of its newspaper coverage and since obituary notices illuminate conceptions of death, we hypothesized that obituary notices placed by families would reflect societal attitudes to aging and dementia.
Methods: We undertook critical discourse analysis of obituaries in representative national and local newspapers in Canada and the U.K.
Results: In the 799 obituaries studied, chronological age, suggested donations in memory of the deceased, and donations to dementia charities were each included in significantly more obituaries in Canadian newspapers than in U.K. ones. Military service was explicit for significantly more men aged ≥ 80 years in Canada compared to the U.K. (41% versus 4%; p < 0.05). Of the donations to medical charities, nearly half (n = 117) were to cancer charities and one-fifth (54) to heart and stroke foundations. In the U.K., obituaries for those aged ≥ 70 years were more likely to recommend donations to children's charities (n = 12) or the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (8) than dementia charities (7).
Conclusions: Donations to dementia charities were significantly more common in obituaries in Canada than in the U.K. In both countries, donations to medical charities did not reflect disease prevalence or impact to the individual. Societal attitudes in the U.K. may be impacted by the fragmentation of aging research and antipathy to geriatric medicine in the national medical press.