Only one in three adults in the UK believes it is possible to reduce their risk of developing dementia, research suggests.
The poll, for Alzheimer’s Research UK, found a lack of awareness around lifestyle factors that can increase the risk of the disease and steps that can be taken to cut this risk.
Almost half (48%) of people surveyed did not know a single risk factor for dementia.
These risk factors are heavy drinking, genetics, smoking, high blood pressure, depression and diabetes, while exercise is known to help protect against the disease.
The Dementia Attitudes Monitor interviewed 2,361 people and was carried out by Ipsos MORI for Alzheimer’s Research UK.
It found that just 1% of UK adults were able to name all the seven known risk or protective factors for dementia.
This is despite experts believing that a third of all cases of dementia are influenced by factors that are under people’s control, such as leading a healthy lifestyle.
In the poll, half (49%) of people said they did not know dementia was a cause of death, while 22% incorrectly said it was an inevitable part of getting older.
Most (73%) said they would want to be given information in midlife about their personal risk of developing dementia later in life, if doctors were able to.
Some 85% would also be willing to take a test administered by their doctor to tell them whether they were in the very early stages of dementia, even before symptoms appeared.
Meanwhile, two in five people (42%) named dementia as the health condition they feared the most.
More than 850,000 people in the UK are currently living with dementia and this number is set to rise to more than one million by 2025.
Dementia is an umbrella term for a set of symptoms that affect cognitive function, such as memory loss, confusion and changes to personality.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for around two thirds of all cases.
Hilary Evans, chief executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “Dementia is the UK’s biggest killer but only half of people recognise it even causes death, and almost half of UK adults are unable to name one of seven known risk factors for dementia including smoking, high blood pressure and heavy drinking.
“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.”
Care minister Caroline Dinenage said: “Prevention is becoming an increasingly vital tool in tackling dementia – one of the biggest health challenges of our time, and the UK’s biggest killer.
“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.”