By Chris Adams

Tara Bahrampour of The Washington Post decided to try to put a different face on Alzheimer’s – one that was almost positive.

The reaction was anything but.

Her story on the efforts by a Washington-area couple to maintain a positive outlook although the husband has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease while still in his 50s struck a chord with readers across the country. “Changing ‘the tragedy narrative,’ ” tracked Tom and Peggy Misciagna as Tom negotiated the early stages of the disease. Bahrampour spent months on the story, and her 2,000-word piece ran on the front page of the Post.

In a session with National Press Foundation fellows, Bahrampour (bio, Twitter) and two other health journalists gave tips and strategies for covering Alzheimer’s and related dementias. They shared their suggestions for the best way to find, approach and talk to people in the throes of the debilitating disease – as well as their caregivers who bear the burdens of helping them negotiate life.

The couple in Bahrampour’s story were trying to keep a positive outlook on the disease, going so far as to nickname it “Ollie” – and then blaming Ollie when things went wrong.

She said that many readers were not at all willing to accept the couple’s approach. “Articles like this downplay the difficulties caregivers have,” one comment read, saying that the article making light of the disease was “horrid.”

“I’ve never had such polarizing comments – such extreme comments,” she said. “Either they loved the story or they hated the story and they hated me and they hated The Washington Post.”

Fellows also heard from Liz Seegert, a freelance writer who is also the aging specialist for the Association of Health Care Journalists. She shared ideas for more than two dozen topics that could lead to stories on dementia – everything from state and federal policy, to new coping strategies, to clinical trials on treatments and cures, to the impact on families and caregivers, to the cost of it all.

“There is no shortage of stories,” said Seegert (bio, Twitter).

Fellows also heard from Jocelyn Kaiser (bio, Twitter) of Science magazine, who covers the National Institutes of Health as an institution and shared with fellows the massive increase in dementia funding now underway at the scientific agency. The increase didn’t come out of the blue, but instead followed a persistent lobbying campaign over years by advocacy groups that convinced Congress of the need for more dedicated research funds into Alzheimer’s and other dementias.