Three lessons from our latest Dementia Attitudes Monitor

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By Nathan Choat | Wednesday 01 November 2023

Today we published results from our latest Dementia Attitudes Monitor. This is the third time we’ve carried out this in-depth analysis towards dementia and research across the UK.

It provides essential insights into what people think and feel about dementia. And as we carry out the research every two years, it allows us to track how attitudes have changed over time, acting as a compass directing our work as a charity.

There’s far too much data in the report to sum up in one post. So instead, let’s dive into three of the biggest insights from the report. We’ve also spoken to two clinicians, who work with people affected by dementia every day, about how they’ve seen attitudes change.

1. Not enough people understand the true impact of dementia

One particularly striking insight from the report is that only six in ten people realise dementia is a cause of death. This is despite the fact dementia has been the biggest cause of death among adults in England and Wales almost every year since 2015, only briefly being overtaken by COVID-19 during the pandemic.

 

Pie chart showing that just 60% of adults agree dementia is a cause of death.

 

This is important because we know that recognition of dementia as a cause of death is closely linked to other attitudes about the condition.

It’s clear we have lots more work to do to educate people about the true impact of dementia.

“The more of a conversation we can have around dementia, the better.”
— Dr Ben Underwood

Dr Ben Underwood, assistant professor in old age psychiatry at the University of Cambridge, thinks too many of us have simply “got used to” the dementia. He says that when COVID-19 came along, we made a big effort against it because it was new and threatening. But so far there hasn’t been the same urgency around dementia, because there’s a perception we can’t do anything about it.

 

Headshot of clinician Dr Ben Underwood

Dr Ben Underwood

 

However, recent advances in diagnosing and treating dementia mark a turning point. Research holds huge promise, but in order to build support for a cure for dementia, we must do more to highlight its devastating impact.

At Alzheimer’s Research UK, we’re doing everything we can to spark conversations around dementia. One of the ways we’re doing this is through our new campaign film. By turning a traditional fairytale story on its head, our aim is to expose the harsh reality of this condition – and encourage more people to support vital research.

2. The majority of people are sceptical about current treatments but optimistic about the future

The results of the Monitor reflect the fact that the dementia treatments available today simply aren’t good enough. More than half of respondents see current treatments as ‘not effective’, with a further three in 10 saying they don’t know how effective treatments are.

However, scientists are making progress, with groundbreaking Alzheimer’s drugs, lecanemab and donanemab, returning positive phase 3 trial results in the last 12 months. And the report shows that people are optimistic about the future, with 56% agreeing that one day, the diseases that cause dementia will be cured.

 

Bar graph demonstrating the belief of 56% of people that one day, the diseases that cause dementia will be cured.

 

Dr Chineze Ivenso, consultant old age psychiatrist at the Aneurin Bevan University Health Board in South Wales, thinks this is because people now understand dementia much better than they used to.

“People used to believe that dementia was an inevitable part of old age, but this has started to change. They are now coming to the clinic at a much earlier stage, and they’re more receptive to learning about the condition than ever before.”

 

Headshot of clinician Dr Chineze Ivenso

Dr Chineze Ivenso

 

She frequently finds herself talking to her patients about aspects of dementia she wouldn’t have been able to before. These include everything from the mechanisms behind the condition, to the most promising new techniques for early and accurate diagnosis. She’s also noticed that more people are interested in taking part in dementia research studies, hinting at a belief that one day, research will find a cure.

People used to believe that dementia was an inevitable part of old age, but this has started to change.
– Dr Chineze Ivenso

Between now and the next Dementia Attitudes Monitor, we will do more to build understanding around new treatments across our communications – whether that’s through our news site, on social media, or at one of our Lab Notes events.

3. Awareness of the ability to reduce dementia risk is still too low

A person’s risk of developing dementia is shaped by lots of different factors. Some, like age and genes, can’t be changed. But others, like diet or blood pressure for example, can. In fact, research shows that up to 40% of cases may be linked to risk factors that people can influence.

 

Bar chart showing that only 36% of people think it is possible to reduce their risk of dementia.

 

We’re raising awareness about this through our Think Brain Health campaign. However, the Monitor shows we have more work to do, with just 36% of UK adults agreeing it’s possible to reduce their risk of dementia. This is something that Dr Ben Underwood sometimes comes across in his work.

“People I see in clinics are not always aware of the things they can do to help reduce their risk. For example, people generally know that high blood pressure is bad for their health, but they may not realise that taking steps to address it could also help reduce their risk of dementia in later life.”

Dr Underwood believes that in order to make progress against dementia, we need the whole of society to be involved.

“The more of a conversation we can have around dementia, the better.”

We’re committed to doing more on prevention, which will be a key focus for the charity in the coming years. That means continuing to raise awareness through Think Brain Health, and calling on the government to deliver joined-up policies that enable people to protect their brain health throughout their lives.

Find out more

Shaping attitudes to dementia is incredibly important. The better people’s understanding, the more likely they’ll be to take action to reduce their risk, and participate in research studies to help find the treatments that will reduce the harm and heartbreak associated with dementia. They’ll also be more likely to support research into dementia, helping us accelerate our progress towards a cure.

These are just a few of the topics covered in the Dementia Attitudes Monitor, but there are many more fascinating results to explore. You can read the full report now on our website.

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About the author

Nathan Choat

Communications Officer – Campaigns & Projects