Scots have positive attitudes and improved knowledge of dementia

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National survey reveals that attitudes to people living with dementia are largely positive, with most people not seeing it as a stigmatising condition

21st September 2018 by Sophie Bell 0 Comments

A new Scottish Social attitudes report has been published today for World Alzheimer's Day. 

The survey, which was carried out by the Scottish Centre for Social Research (ScotCen), also showed that a large majority of people are very aware of dementia and the challenges it can bring for families.

Nearly three quarters of people in Scotland – 74% - said that they know or had known someone with dementia, with almost four in 10 (37%) saying that a partner or a member of their family has or had dementia.

There was also a very high percentage of people who believed that dementia should be a priority for government spending, particularly around care and support.

The survey was commissioned and funded by the Life Changes Trust, who previously commissioned a similar survey in 2014.

Current figures show that, since 2014, there has been a significant increase in public awareness around risk factors associated with developing dementia, such as high blood pressure and smoking. However, almost a quarter of people still believed that there was nothing they could do to decrease their risk of getting dementia.

Scotland wants to do its best by people with dementia, but we need to keep these issues on the public and political agenda

This survey highlighted that a substantial majority of people hold positive attitudes to people with dementia and do not see it as a stigmatising condition, while 83% of people would want their friends and family to know if they were informed that they had the first signs of dementia.

An overwhelming majority of people - 91% - think someone in the early stages of dementia can lead "a fulfilling life".

However, despite largely positive attitude to dementia, stigma still exists - around 13% of people said they would be "ashamed" if their doctor told them they had the first signs of dementia and 37% would not want their employer to find out.

Positive attitudes were most likely to be held by those who had cared for or known someone with dementia, younger people, women and those with higher educational qualifications, while stigmatising and negative attitudes were more likely to be found among men, older people and those who said they did not know much about dementia.

In terms of health, here was an overall increase in people’s knowledge of symptoms and risk factors relating to dementia compared to 2014.

The vast majority of people are aware of some well-established symptoms of dementia – for example nine in 10 knew that "difficulty in recognising people" is a symptom, and around eight in 10 that "losing track of time" or "feeling lost in new places" are symptoms.

However, there is substantially less knowledge about other symptoms such as specific sensory challenges - around six in 10 were aware that having hallucinations coulld be a symptom and around four in 10 were aware of "changes to taste or smell" and "increased sensitivity to noise".

Almost six in 10 (57%) thought that there were things they could do to decrease their risk of getting dementia, compared with around one quarter (24%) who thought there was nothing they could do, with 19% saying they were not sure.

Just 9% of people correctly recognised all five identified risk factors for dementia (they were high blood pressure, alcohol, smoking, diet and family history). However this was an improvement from 2014, when only 3% of people correctly identified all five.

35% identified either none (15%) or only one (20%) of the five risk factors correctly. 

While over 50% did not know or were not sure that smoking or bad diet were risk factors, this was an improvement from 2014, where over 60% were unaware or unsure that they were risks.

Over 70% did not recognise, or were not sure, that high blood pressure was a risk factor (it is a risk particularly for vascular dementia which is the second most common form of dementia in Scotland.)

Meanwhile, over half of people (56%) in Scotland have provided some form of care or support to someone with dementia and 21% of people had cared for someone with dementia on a regular basis, with a further 29% having some experience of caring for, visiting or helping someone with dementia.

A very large majority of people (81%) said they agreed or agreed strongly with the statement that "caring for someone with dementia is often very lonely", while 50% said that they thought that "caring for someone with dementia was often very rewarding".

76% strongly agreed/agreed that caring for someone with dementia often means their own health suffers.

Almost half chose dementia as the highest or second highest priority for more government spending on prevention – second only to cancer.

The survey concluded there is still work to be done to improve knowledge of dementia and associated symptoms and risks. While there has been a significant improvement in public knowledge since 2014, there were still less than half of respondents who correctly identified high blood pressure, family history, smoking and diet as risk factors for certain types dementia.

There is a very high level of public support for carers, with a strong feeling that the governments could do more to support those who care for people living with dementia.

Anna Buchanan, director of the Life Changes Trust dementia programme, said: “There are definitely marked improvements in public knowledge about dementia in general, undoubtedly related to the increase in diagnosis rates, raising of public awareness and more news coverage over the last few years. It is also encouraging that Scots appear to have a generally positive attitude towards people living with dementia and their carers, and that they see care, support and prevention as priorities for Government spending.  There is also a clear message that, as a nation, we believe that people with dementia have the right to lead a fulfilling life.

“Clearly, however, there are still gaps in knowledge around making connections between lifestyle and health when it comes to dementia and a still relatively low understanding that taking action now may prevent some types of dementia in the future. There are also still issues of stigma that need to be tackled, particularly in the work place. Scotland clearly wants to do its best by people with dementia, but we need to keep these issues on the public and political agenda in order to create the best lives we can for those affected by dementia.”