A global study on attitudes toward dementia has shown that two-thirds of people believe it to be a natural risk of getting older, which could be limiting the help that people seek.
Every 3 seconds, someone develops dementia somewhere in the world. In the United States alone, 5.8 million people are living with Alzheimer's, and every 65 seconds, another person develops the disease.
Alzheimer's is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., beating breast and prostate cancer together, and it is one of the world's fastest growing causes of death. According to Alzheimer's Disease International (ADI), the number of people living with dementia is likely to triple from the current 50 million to 152 million by 2050.
Despite the prevalence of this neurodegenerative disorder, the world's largest survey of attitudes toward it has shown that there is very little true understanding across the globe, even among healthcare professionals.
The study, which surveyed 70,000 people in 155 countries, found that 62% of healthcare professionals also believe that dementia is a normal part of aging.
The findings also revealed that only 16% of people are getting regular cognitive assessments, even though early diagnosis can help.
The effect of stigma
The study, which ADI led, concluded that stigma could be restricting people from getting advice, medical assistance, and support that could help them live well with dementia for as long as possible.
Not only that, but stigma could be limiting their goals and lifestyles. The study also found that 35% of carers hide the diagnosis of dementia in family members from others.
"Lack of knowledge about dementia leads to inaccurate assumptions about its effects on the person and their family and negative stereotypes about how a person with dementia will behave," Annie Bliss of ADI told Medical News Today.
"What the report confirmed for us was that stigma and negative attitudes around dementia exist in every setting, although this may present itself in many different ways."
The researchers found that almost 48% of the survey respondents believe that the memory of someone with dementia will never improve, even with medical help, while a quarter of respondents feel that there is no way to prevent this disease from developing.
Regarding treatment, 40% of people believe that healthcare practitioners ignore those with dementia, while up to 55.8% of health practitioners agree that their colleagues overlook those living with the disease.
The size of this study — utilizing ADI's network of 100 associations and federations across the globe and including surveys in 32 different languages — and its focus on behavior and attitudes set it apart from other research on this condition.
The London School of Economics and Political Science in the United Kingdon provided the analysis.
"We complemented this data with expert essays and case studies, which help contextualize the data by presenting diverse experiences, including from marginalized or lesser-heard-from communities, indigenous groups, and working groups of people living with dementia and carers," said Bliss.
ADI express the hope that this study will raise awareness and spark conversations around symptoms and managing risk. They note the need for increased support to keep those living with dementia and their loved ones informed, empowered, and reassured.
"A drug based breakthrough would also help tackle some of the stigma, in a similar way to what has been experienced in cancer and [HIV]," said Bliss. "A pharmacological breakthrough can add hope [....]."