How much does the UK know about brain health?

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By Alzheimer's Research UK | Wednesday 24 January 2024

Lots of research is being done into the things we can do to protect our brains and help reduce our risk of dementia. But how much do people really know about brain health?

We set out to answer this question with our latest Dementia Attitudes Monitor – an in-depth look at public attitudes towards and understanding of dementia in the UK.

The Monitor shows that the public’s support for topics like diagnosing dementia early, and being given information about their personal risk, remains strong.

However, it also reveals that just 36% of UK adults realise it’s possible to reduce the risk of dementia. That’s despite the fact that up to 40% of dementia cases are linked to factors we may be able to influence.

In this blog we’ll explore what the Dementia Attitudes Monitor taught us about the UK’s understanding of brain health and the things that influence it.

30% of UK adults can’t name any risk factors for dementia

Our risk of developing dementia is shaped by a complex mix of factors. Some of these we can’t change, like our age, genetics or some medical conditions. Others we can, like our diet or whether or not we smoke.

When asked to name things that could increase a person’s risk, most people were able to name one or more risk factors. But the Monitor also found that 30% of people couldn’t name any at all, an increase from 26% in 2021. This proportion is greater still for people aged over 65 – this was the case for one in three people in this age group.

On the other hand, adults aged 45-54 showed the strongest understanding of risk factors. This is encouraging because midlife is a particularly important window when it comes to taking steps to protect your brain health and help reduce your risk of developing dementia in later life.

Understanding the different things that shape our brain health and dementia risk is the first step towards giving back to your brain, which is why raising awareness of them is at the heart of our Think Brain Health campaign.

Want to learn more? Complete the Think Brain Health Check-in today to learn more about dementia risk factors and get personalised feedback on your brain healthy habits.

 

Mother, father and daughter smile and stand together in the kitchen. The daughter is chopping tomatoes, while the mother looks through a recipe book.

 

Some people are unaware of the full impact of dementia

Memory loss is one of the most common symptoms of dementia, so it’s not surprising that 96% of people believe it impacts mental aspects of a person’s health.

However, awareness of the physical impact of the condition – which can affect chewing, swallowing and movement – is notably lower.

Maintaining understanding of the mental impact of dementia is of course important. Taking steps to keep your mind sharp, like learning a new skill or getting stuck into puzzles, is a great way to help reduce your risk of dementia in later life.

However, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that dementia can also take a physical toll. If more people understood the full impact of dementia, it might encourage them to protect their brain health in other ways. This could include doing more physical activity – whether that be by going for a walk, or taking the stairs instead of the lift.

That’s why Think Brain Health celebrates everything our brains do for us, including physical things like movement.

There’s a big opportunity to raise awareness about lesser-known risk factors

While many people know that factors like our diet and the amount of physical activity we do can influence our brain health and dementia risk, the Dementia Attitudes Monitor shows that some risk factors are flying under the radar.

One of the least commonly known is hearing loss, which was mentioned by just 1% of people when they were asked to name things that could increase their risk of dementia.

Scientists don’t yet fully understand the link between hearing loss and dementia, but an important piece of research suggests it’s a strong one. And with evidence showing that using hearing aids could help reduce the risk of dementia in people with hearing loss, this represents a big opportunity to help more people look after their brain health.

The same is true for high blood pressure, which was also mentioned by very few people. There is perhaps more evidence tying this risk factor to dementia risk than any other, with research showing that actively managing your blood pressure helps reduce your risk. The fact that just 1% of adults named high blood pressure as a risk factor for dementia shows that there’s still a long way to go to improve understanding.

The good news is, knowing this information will help us better inform the public about what they can do to help reduce their risk of dementia. And with prevention forming a key part of our search for a cure for dementia, this has never been more important.

Looking for ways to start giving back to your brain? Check out our brain health tips today to find out how.

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Alzheimer's Research UK