Dementia is a significant and growing health and aged care concern in Australia. More than 400,000 Australians are living with dementia, and this number is projected to double by 2058 (AIHW 2023). Dementia is a term used to describe a group of conditions characterised by cognitive decline interfering with daily function (AIHW 2023). It can affect people’s memory, speech, cognition (thought), behaviour, mobility, and personality, and their health and functional ability decline as the disease progresses. Dementia can have a profound impact on the person living with dementia, as well as their family, friends, and carers. 

While dementia is more common with age, it is not a normal part of ageing and there are health behaviours that can increase or decrease the risk of developing dementia (known as ‘modifiable risk factors’). Despite the significant impacts of dementia, previous research (Keage et al. 2021; Nagel et al. 2021) has shown that the community generally has a poor understanding of dementia and what can be done to reduce the risk of developing it.

The Dementia Awareness Survey (the survey) collected information on Australians’ knowledge of dementia and modifiable risk factors for dementia, and Australians’ attitudes towards dementia and people living with dementia. Survey findings will inform priorities and specific focus areas for dementia awareness initiatives and possible prevention activities stemming from the National Dementia Action Plan

More than 5,400 people aged 18 and over across Australia were surveyed between July and August 2023. The 2023 survey is the first Dementia Awareness Survey of this kind conducted. Subsequent surveys will provide information on whether knowledge of dementia and behaviours and attitudes have changed over time. All the differences between groups reported in this report are statistically significant (p < 0.05). 

Generally, Australians know little about dementia

Survey respondents were asked whether statements about dementia were ‘true’, ‘probably true’, ‘probably false’, ‘false’, or ‘don’t know’. Statements cover broad topics, including general characteristics, causes and symptoms, behaviour and communication with people with dementia, and risks and health promotion. Knowledge was higher among:

  • women
  • those with higher levels of education and income
  • those with a family member or friend with dementia
  • those who have worked with people with dementia
  • those who were born in Australia or in culturally similar countries (the United Kingdom (UK), United States of America (USA), Canada and New Zealand (NZ))
  • non-heterosexual people
  • people who lived in Inner regional areas of Australia, when compared with those who lived in Major cities.

While more than half of Australians knew that Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia (63% responded with ‘true’ or ‘probably true’), only around 1 in 6 (17% responded ‘false’ and ‘probably false’) knew that common forms of dementia do not have a sudden onset of cognitive problems.

Australians need to know various dementia risk factors

A large proportion of Australians were able to recognise some ways to reduce their risk of dementia such as being physically (77%), cognitively (continually learning new things; 77%), and socially active (70%) – along with cutting down alcohol consumption if they drink excessively (72%) and preventing head injuries (70%). However, fewer than 1 in 3 Australians were sure about their knowledge. 

Australians did not know about less known dementia risk or protective factors such as avoiding polluted air (35%) and eating a Mediterranean diet (50%).

Almost all Australians do one or more things that can reduce their risk of developing dementia

Although most Australians (99.6%) engaged in one or more behaviours that can reduce their risk of developing dementia, they generally did so for other reasons. For example, a person may maintain healthy blood pressure or be socially active, not realising that this also reduces their risk of dementia.

People who knew more about dementia tended to take more action than those who knew less.

2 in 3 Australians believe people with dementia need constant supervision

There are several commonly held stereotypes about people with dementia. About 2 in 3 (67%) people believed that people with dementia needed constant supervision and that they are unpredictable (62%). However, more than 4 in 5 Australians believed that people with dementia can enjoy life (83%), 3 in 4 (77%) did not fear people with dementia, and fewer than 1 in 10 people would exclude a person with dementia (8.3%) or ignore them (4.8%).

Australians with symptoms of dementia would seek help from their general practitioner (GP)

Nine in 10 (89%) Australians would seek help from a GP if they had signs of dementia. Half (51%) would seek help from a specialist and 4 in 10 (39%) would seek help from family or friends.

Australians would share a dementia diagnosis with family members

Almost all (94%) Australians would share a diagnosis of dementia with family members. Two in 3 Australians would share a diagnosis with friends, and 1 in 3 people with their employer and colleagues. Very few people (4%) would tell nobody.