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Survey reveals public perceptions of people with dementia changing for the better

A new survey has found most almost six-in-ten (58 per cent) people would react immediately if they felt they were becoming forgetful and were concerned that it might be a sign of early dementia.

According to the survey, commissioned by the Dementia: Understand Together campaign and undertaken by Behaviour & Attitudes in July, three-in-ten (31 per cent) would probably delay a couple of months and “keep checking myself”.

One-in-ten (9 per cent) say they would be anxious about such a diagnosis and would probably try and cover it up for a while.

In general, the nationally representative survey of over 1,200 people, which was released for World Alzheimer’s Day (21 September), found improving public perceptions and attitudes towards people with dementia since the last time similar questions were asked.

Key findings include:

When asked about the attitudes of others, 67 per cent of respondents believe most people would accept a person with dementia as a close friend and a similar number (68 per cent) believe most would treat a person with dementia as they would anyone. Both of these results are up from 56 per cent in 2016, showing a significant positive shift in public inclusivity and empathy towards people with dementia

Seven in ten (71 per cent) people are happy to spend time with a person with dementia, up from 66 per cent in 2018, and a similar number (72 per cent) are happy to be in a social group in the company of a person with dementia, up from 68 per cent in 2018. When asked if they wouldn’t bother to visit a person with dementia because “they won’t remember” three-in-four people (76 per cent) rejected this, up from 73 per cent in 2018

In a new survey question asked in 2021, more than nine-in-ten who responded (92 per cent) believe that people with dementia have the right to be active citizens in their communities

In another question not previously asked, more than eight-in-ten (81 per cent) believe that there are things businesses and service providers can do to make their services accessible to people with dementia

Almost half of those surveyed (48 per cent) said that they know (or have known) at least one person with dementia, up from 44 per cent in 2018

A third of adults (33per cent ) feel that they have a reasonable understanding of dementia while almost nine in ten adults (88 per cent) know something about dementia – just 12 per cen say they know nothing at all. These figures have remained consistent with those reported in the previous survey in 2018, notwithstanding the public discourse being understandably dominated by information on Covid-19 over the past 18 months

Early diagnosis: more than nine-in-ten (91 per cent) agreed that getting diagnosed at an early stage is good because it allows the person more of an opportunity to make decisions about their care – up from 78 per cent in 2018

The focus of the survey reflects an ongoing commitment by the Dementia: Understand Together campaign, which is led by the HSE in partnership with The Alzheimer Society of Ireland, Age Friendly Ireland, Age and Opportunity, and the Dementia Services Information and Development Centre, to help create communities that actively embrace and include those living with dementia and their families.

Reflecting on some of the survey’s outcomes, Dr Emer Begley, National Dementia Office, comments:

“It is perhaps not surprising that with almost half of the population knowing a person with dementia, more and more people are seeing the person and not the disease. The Dementia: Understand Together campaign works with partners and community champions in communities across the country, so that more of us have an awareness and understanding of dementia. Since we last posed similar questions to the general public, it is very positive to see that increasing numbers of people are more empathetic and understanding of people with dementia. This is very welcome news as negative public perceptions and stigma can isolate people with dementia and cause them to withdraw from social engagement and community life. More people are seeing the importance of social connections for people living with dementia, that this can enhance not just how they feel and their experience of life, but they understand that they too have something to gain from greater inclusion. What is also reassuring is that respondents want people with dementia to live their lives to the full and see that an inclusive community enables them to do that, from joining a local club to visiting a shop.”

For Prof. Suzanne Timmons, Consultant Geriatrician and Clinical Lead of the HSE’s National Dementia Office, it is important that we convert our understanding of the importance of early diagnosis into seeking support:

“An interesting finding from the survey is that most of us agree that early diagnosis is good in principle but that, if push comes to shove, a significant number of us would delay seeking help. It is a very positive indicator that people understand that early diagnosis is a good thing, but equally it is important that people understand the benefits of seeking support in a timely way. It may not be dementia in the end, but the assessment may indicate certain risk factors for future dementia that could be tackled now. In the event that it is dementia, for many people, there are medications and cognitive therapies that aim to support the person to carry on their normal daily life despite the dementia. For everyone, getting a diagnosis enables us to make decisions about our future, and it means we can get the right information, advice and support at the right time. All of this gives us the best chance for having the best possible quality of life, regardless of the diagnosis.”

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