Only 1% of UK adults are able to name seven known risk or protective factors for dementia, according to results of a survey by Alzheimer’s Research UK.

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.

Half of the respondents failed to identify any risk factors that include heavy drinking, genetics, smoking, high blood pressure, depression and diabetes, or that physical exercise is a protective factor.

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 a 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.

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, a large 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, 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.

"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: “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.”