Findings from one of the most comprehensive surveys of UK-wide public perceptions of dementia and research have been revealed today (6 February) by Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity. The findings highlight enduring misconceptions around the physical nature of the diseases that cause dementia as well as low understanding of the risk factors for dementia, which is now the leading cause of death in the UK.
The Dementia Attitudes Monitor, which will be repeated biennially, includes data from 2,361 interviews conducted by Ipsos MORI between 15 June and 5 July 2018.
The Monitor reveals that just 1% of UK adults are able to name seven known risk or protective factors for the dementia (risk factors: heavy drinking, genetics, smoking, high blood pressure, depression and diabetes, protective factor: physical exercise) and 48% fail to identify any. With a third of cases of dementia thought to be influenced by factors in our control to change, the findings highlight a clear need for education around dementia prevention.
The Monitor also reveals overwhelming public appetite for research developments that could provide greater information about dementia risk or give an earlier diagnosis of the diseases behind dementia, most commonly Alzheimer’s.
Key findings include:
- More than half of UK adults (52%) now say they know someone with dementia.
- Only half (51%) recognise that dementia is a cause of death* and more than 1 in 5 (22%) incorrectly believes it’s an inevitable part of getting older.
- Only 34% of people believe it’s possible to reduce the risk of dementia, compared with 77% for heart disease and 81% for diabetes.
- Three-quarters (73%) of adults would want to be given information in midlife about their personal risk of developing dementia later in life, if doctors could do so.
*Base: Adults 15+ in UK without a dementia diagnosis (2,354)
In addition, the Alzheimer’s Research UK Dementia Attitudes Monitor reveals that the majority of the public agree there is value people with dementia being given a formal diagnosis (82%). In addition, an overwhelming number of people (85%) would be willing to take a test through their doctor to tell them whether they were in the very early stages of Alzheimer’s or another dementia, even before symptoms showed, if research was able to deliver such a breakthrough in the coming years.
Hilary Evans, Chief Executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, said:
“It is a sad truth that more people are affected by dementia than ever before and half of us now know someone with the condition. Yet despite growing dementia awareness, we must work harder to improve understanding of the diseases that cause it. Dementia is the UK’s biggest killer but only half of people recognise it even causes death, and almost half of UK adults are unable to name one of seven known risk factors for dementia including smoking, high blood pressure and heavy drinking.
“Many of these enduring misconceptions influence attitudes to research, with the Dementia Attitudes Monitor showing that those who believe dementia is an inevitable part of ageing are also less likely to value a formal diagnosis or to engage with research developments that could bring about life-changing preventions and treatments.
“Making breakthroughs in public understanding has the potential to empower more people to take steps to maintain their own brain health, to seek a diagnosis and to support research that has the power to transform lives.”
Caroline Dinenage MP, Minister for Care, said:
“Prevention is becoming an increasingly vital tool in tackling dementia – one of the biggest health challenges of our time, and the UK’s biggest killer. This research supports our Challenge on Dementia 2020 by highlighting the need to raise public awareness around the condition and how healthy lifestyle choices can reduce the personal risk of developing it.
“We’ve already made significant progress on this, with advice on how to reduce dementia risk included in all health checks for the over 40s. By spreading the word on prevention, we can help fulfil the Government’s ambition to make England the world-leader in dementia care, research and awareness.”
Sue Strachan, diagnosed with vascular dementia in 2014, said:
“I wasn’t very fit when I was diagnosed with dementia and my GP advised me to take up exercise to try to manage my condition. I do wish I’d started earlier, because good heart health can have such a positive impact on the brain. I can see that society’s view of dementia is improving, but I still experience misunderstanding about the condition – not least that there’s nothing that can be done to help. We must make sure people are informed about dementia, so they’re more likely to engage with advances in research that could make such a positive difference to people’s lives in future.”
Laura Thomas from Ipsos MORI, who carried out the survey, said:
“The Dementia Attitudes Monitor will be the first of its kind to track over time changing perceptions about dementia and research. We hope it will shine a light on unhelpful misconceptions that persist and highlight the opportunities to break through these misconceptions to direct efforts towards a world free from the fear, harm and heartbreak of dementia.”
The Monitor also reveals key groups of people whose understanding of dementia is lower, including those from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, younger adults under the age of 24, and over 65s – who are less likely to be open to the idea of research developments or volunteer to take part themselves. The report sets out key areas of action that are needed to address gaps in public understanding of dementia or attitudes to research, including how the condition is portrayed in popular culture and how risk reduction campaigns are developed in future.