More than half of us have been affected by dementia

Charity Alzheimer’s Research UK releases the second wave of national dementia perceptions survey.

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  • Nick Philp Observer
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Findings from the second wave of one of the most comprehensive surveys of UK-wide public perceptions of dementia and research have been revealed by Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity. Wave 2 of the Dementia Attitudes Monitor gives detailed insight into the UK’s understanding of, and attitudes towards dementia, building on findings from Wave 1 in 2018

More than half of us have been affected by dementia

Wave 2 of the Monitor has revealed that more than half (52%) of the UK public know someone who has been diagnosed with the condition - a figure that remains unchanged since Wave 1. This is most often a grandparent (17%) or parent (13%).

Wave 2 suggests a positive shift in understanding of the diseases that cause the condition, though fear persists.

The majority of people (68%) correctly disagree with the statement ‘dementia is an inevitable part of getting older’ - up from 60% in Wave 1. The proportion who are unsure whether dementia is inevitable has fallen from 17% to 11%.

In 2018, half (51%) of the public agreed with the statement ‘Dementia is a cause of death’, despite it being the UK’s leading cause of death, excluding COVID-19, since 2015. Three years on, 62% recognised the terminal nature of the condition.

Half (49%) of UK adults say that dementia is the health condition they fear most about getting in the future, indicating an increase in concern since Wave 1 of the Monitor (42%). Women (55% compared to 42% of men) and older adults (60% of those aged 65 or over) are more likely to agree that dementia is the health condition they fear most, reflecting findings from 2018.

Awareness of risk and risk factors for dementia remains low

The latest evidence suggests that up to 40% of all cases of dementia are linked to factors we may be able to influence ourselves, yet just a third (33%) of UK adults think it’s possible for people to reduce their risk. Women are less likely to think it’s possible to influence their dementia risk than men (30% compared to 37%).

When asked to consider what could increase a person’s risk, the most common responses included ‘being less mentally active’ (mentioned by 22%) and ‘genetic factors’ (19%). Very few people named physical risk factors like blood pressure and diabetes, despite evidence suggesting these are among the factors most closely linked to dementia risk. 

Despite limited understanding of the ability to reduce dementia risk, three quarters (75%) of people believe it’s possible for a person to influence their brain health, suggesting that positively reframing dementia risk reduction as ‘protecting brain health’ represents a major opportunity to increase public engagement.

The majority of people want to better understand their personal risk and are open to using new technology to do so.

Three quarters (74%) of UK adults say they would want to be told about their personal risk of developing dementia later in life if their doctor could provide this information (73% in Wave 1).

There is widespread support for new techniques that could, in future, be used to help measure dementia risk, with 75% of people willing to use smartphone apps and wearable technology to do so. The Monitor shows that reluctance to use technology in this way increases uniformly from the youngest to oldest age groups.

There is strong support for formal diagnosis and early testing for dementia, even before symptoms show

The vast majority of people (89%) would be likely to seek a formal diagnosis if they were concerned they might be in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. The most common motivators are to gain access to treatments that could help and to enable the person to plan for the future (each mentioned by 32% of people who would seek a diagnosis).

Of the 9% who would be unlikely to seek a formal diagnosis, the main reason given was that doing so would be too stressful.

There is similarly strong support for very early detection and diagnosis, with most people (87%) saying they would take a test, or set of tests, that could tell whether they were in the very early stages of Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, even before any symptoms appeared (85% in 2018).

Finding a cure remains the UK’s top research priority

The Monitor once again identified strongest support for research into ways to cure the diseases that cause dementia, cited as the most important type of research by 28% of participants. Next, research into ways to prevent dementia was chosen as most important by 22% of people.   

Positively, the majority (61%) of UK adults believe that one day the diseases that cause dementia will be cured. 18% express uncertainty and just 16% disagree.

Willingness to get involved in medical research for dementia is at an all-time high

Wave 2 of the Monitor found that the 69% of UK adults would now consider getting involved in medical research for dementia - a marked increase since Wave 1 (50%).

Research being ‘the only answer to dementia’ is the main driver for participation, mentioned by 46% of those expressing an interest in taking part. As seen in Wave 1, uncertainty about what would be involved is the most common reason for reluctance, mentioned by 23% of those who would not take part.

Nick Philp, Director in Ipsos Observer, said:

This second wave of the Dementia Attitudes Monitor is tracking changing perceptions about dementia and research. We hope it will shine a light on the opportunities to direct efforts towards a world free from the fear, harm and heartbreak of dementia.

Technical Note

Research was carried out by Ipsos MORI on behalf of Alzheimer’s Research UK with a nationally representative quota sample of 2,259 adults in the United Kingdom aged 18+, using its telephone omnibus survey between 18 June and 19 July 2021. The survey data has been weighted to the known national population proportions of this audience for age within gender, government office region within gender, working status, ethnicity, and social grade. There was also an ethnic minority boost within this resulting in a total sample of 387 adults from an ethnic minority background.

The author(s)

  • Nick Philp Observer

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