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Scottish Social Attitudes 2017: Public Attitudes to Dementia

Clasping Hands
Published: September 2018


This study was commissioned by the Life Changes Trust and conducted as part of the 2017 Scottish Social Attitudes survey. The report examines:

  • levels of experience and knowledge of dementia
  • awareness of symptoms and risk factors associated with dementia
  • attitudes towards the funding of dementia services and care
  • perceptions of people with dementia and their carers
  • sources of support and information
  • attitudes towards the rights of people with dementia to lead a fulfilling life

This report follows work commissioned by the Life Changes Trust and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and undertaken using the 2014 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey. It repeats a number of the questions asked in 2014, allowing for an examination of any change in public attitudes towards various aspects of dementia during this period.

The report is one part of a wider programme of work to improve understanding and awareness of dementia, and it aims to inform future policy in this area.


Many people in Scotland are aware of, and affected by, dementia.

  • Nearly three quarters of people in Scotland – 74% - said that they know or had known someone with dementia, with almost 4 in 10 (37%) saying that a partner or a member of their family has or had dementia.
  • Over half of people (56%) in Scotland have provided some form of care or support to someone with dementia.

The vast majority of people in Scotland are aware of some of the well-established symptoms of dementia, however there is substantially less knowledge about other symptoms. 

  • 9 in 10 recognise that ‘difficulty in recognising people’ can be a symptom of dementia, and around 8 in 10 are aware that ‘losing track of time’ or ‘feeling lost in new places’ can be symptoms of dementia
  • However, around 6 in 10 are aware that ‘having hallucinations’ could be a symptom of dementia, while around 4 in 10 are aware that ‘changes to taste or smell’ and ‘increased sensitivity to noise’ could be symptoms of dementia

Awareness of dementia’s risk factors has increased since 2014, but for particular risk factors knowledge levels remain relatively low

  • Almost 6 in 10 (57%) thought there were things they could do to decrease their risk of getting dementia, compared with around one-quarter (24%) who thought there were not 
  • The proportion of people who correctly identified a range of 5 risk factors and protective factors for dementia ranged from 28% (in the case of identifying high blood pressure as a risk factor) to 57% (in the case of identifying drinking heavily as a risk factor for dementia)

For other Scottish Social Attitudes reports, visit our SSA research page


Addresses are scientifically selected using random probability sampling to ensure that the findings are representative of Scotland as a whole. Interviews take place in people's homes, carried out by our highly trained interviewer field force. Much of the survey is conducted face-to-face but a number of questions in this module were conducted as a self-complete by respondents due to their sensitive nature. 

In 2017, the Scottish Social Attitudes survey had a sample of 1234 respondents. 

The research was done in collaboration with Jennifer Waterton.

Download report

Download annex tables