Lifestyle review: Tabloid treatment obscures disturbing story

Please Look After My Dad
Panorama, BBC One
Monday 3rd Dec, 8.30pm

Star rating: 3/5

This programme was broadcast just three days after Panorama was rapped for its controversial wi-fi report. But the topic of Please Look After My Dad, a report on the effects of anti-psychotic drugs on Alzheimer’s patients, is not scaremongering. It is an issue that has received wide attention and senior academic and medical figures gave evidence to the programme.

So why was it still so hard to trust the report? At its heart, there was a mismatch between the story of just one man’s treatment, and major research which pointed to an institutional problem of treating Alzheimer’s with a “chemical cosh”.

The film was built around the secret footage of patient Eric Hollingsworth, filmed by his daughter Cheryl. But despite having a strong story and the visuals handed to them on a plate, the production team still dressed up the programme with reconstructions and often outright gimmicky scripting. On the daughter’s discovery of her father’s light hallucinations, for example, we’re told that a “light switched on for Cheryl”.

Professor Clive Ballard’s startling research into the potentially life-extending benefits of taking patients off anti-psychotics was also showcased. It’s great to see a major long-term study given airtime. But with just 30 minutes to work with in total, trying to cover a powerful human interest story and an institutionalised problem was always going to be a tall order.

With no time to present more cases in depth to illustrate the problem, a brief chat with the more coherent Walter, an Alzheimer’s patient in a care home that avoids anti-psychotic drugs, was served up instead. “Eric is 81, eight years younger than Walter,” reporter Vivian White glibly states, as if we are witnessing a scientifically sound comparison of similar cases.

Shallow reporting left many unanswered questions. I’m none the wiser as to the real reasons behind prescribing so many anti-psychotic drugs, or what is being done about Ballard’s research.

The strong documentary evidence and statements by doctors have made it clear to a wider audience that there is a real problem. But the tabloid reporting techniques and limited scope means the report rang hollow.

Andrew Mickel is a journalism student specialising in social care issues

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