Public Attitudes Towards Dementia - Half of adults can't identify a risk factor for dementia
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.
No time to lose: An action plan for dementia
Dementia is the healthcare crisis of our time.
It’s the leading cause of death in the UK and in recent years, death rates have continued to rise. Dementia is the only major cause of death we can’t slow down, prevent or cure and this comes at incredible cost. The number of people living with dementia is expected to rise to 1 million in just three years – the same year that dementia is projected to cost our economy £30bn.
Alzheimer’s Research UK is committed to increasing our investment in dementia research every year so we can one day achieve a world free from the fear, harm and heartbreak of dementia. We need government to do the same.
Please help us by signing our petition https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/228954
Industrial Strategy funding to boost research into early detection of dementia
The government has today (5 Dec) announced up to £79 million of Industrial Strategy funding for a new programme of research that will harness the power of artificial intelligence and big data to dramatically change the way major diseases are detected, diagnosed and treated. The funding, which forms part of the government’s Life Sciences Sector Deal 2, will support the establishment of a landmark cohort of up to five million people to take part in research aimed at revolutionising early detection and diagnosis of a range of diseases, including Alzheimer’s and other dementias. The programme will bring together the NHS, industry and leading charities including Alzheimer’s Research UK, Cancer Research UK and the British Heart Foundation.
The announcement comes as the World Dementia Council meets to mark five years since the G8 Dementia Summit, at which world leaders committed to a goal of developing a disease-modifying treatment for dementia by 2025. The inclusion of dementia in this groundbreaking programme highlights the progress made since the summit in ensuring that dementia is a key health priority in the UK.
The ability to accurately detect diseases earlier is a major goal for many health conditions, including the diseases that cause dementia. This new research will align with an important goal of Alzheimer’s Research UK to move detection of diseases like Alzheimer’s 10-15 years earlier than is possible today, even before symptoms start to take hold. The announcement bolsters ongoing work led by the charity to bring together global health organisations to take on the challenge of developing an accurate, cost-effective detection tool for Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
In a recent survey for Alzheimer’s Research UK, the vast majority (85%) of UK adults said they would be willing to take a test or set of tests through their doctor that could tell whether they were in the early stages of Alzheimer’s or another dementia, even before symptoms showed – with just over half (55%) of those saying they would take such a test regardless of the effectiveness of treatments available.
An early and accurate diagnosis helps people living with dementia and their families begin to make sense of their symptoms, gives access to the support and treatments that they need and provides the opportunity to get involved in cutting-edge research. Currently, diagnosis occurs after a person presents at their GP with problems such as memory decline, yet these symptoms only appear years after damage begins in the brain.
For Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia, researchers believe that new treatments in development will have the best chance of success if given early, and the ability to identify people in the early stages of the disease could be vital for treating people effectively in the future.
Hilary Evans, Chief Executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“Alzheimer’s Research UK warmly welcomes the government’s announcement that the Life Sciences Sector Deal 2 will back this groundbreaking research, and we are delighted to be playing a part in the development of this landmark cohort.
“At the moment, diseases like Alzheimer’s can only be diagnosed after symptoms of dementia appear. As advanced research brings forward new treatments for the underlying diseases that cause dementia, it will be vital that people are diagnosed as soon as possible for these treatments to be most effective. The vast majority of the UK public have told us they are willing to take a test to detect these diseases early, and research to deliver such a test must go hand in hand with work to develop life-changing new treatments.
“Alzheimer’s Research UK is leading a programme of work to help revolutionise the way dementia is diagnosed, and uniting the best minds in digital data and technology will enable us to harness the full potential of this cohort of volunteers. Today’s announcement is an important step towards achieving that goal and improving the way we treat people with diseases like Alzheimer’s.”