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Perception of Dementia as Illness Drags People Down

Perception of Dementia as Illness Drags People Down

New research discovers people who believe dementia symptoms represent an “illness” are more negative than those who believe dementia is merely a part of the aging process.

University of Exeter researchers looked at people who had recently been diagnosed with dementia and were experiencing symptoms such as memory loss, difficulty concentrating, or carrying out daily tasks.

Participants completed interviews and questionnaires and in each case a family member or close friend was also interviewed. From this, investigators determined that people who saw these symptoms as an illness reported lower mood than those who saw it simply as part of the aging process.

The findings lead researchers to question the value of receiving a diagnosis of “dementia.”

Professor Linda Clare, of the University of Exeter, who led the study, said, “There’s a big emphasis on earlier diagnosis of dementia, but our evidence raises the crucial question of the extent to which giving a diagnostic label really benefits people. Some people do want their difficulties acknowledged with a diagnosis, but our research shows that many others understand what is happening to them as part of a normal process of aging.

“For this group, we may be better targeting support and information based on their symptoms or the type of everyday difficulties they are having, rather than focusing on giving a diagnostic label. This is a relatively small study and we must now conduct further work to confirm this to ensure we are providing the best support in this crucial area of health diagnosis, which has enormous implications for how people adjust and cope with these changes in later life.”

The study also involved collaborators from Bangor and Cardiff universities and assessing 64 people who had been given a diagnosis of mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. The subjects also took part in the Memory Impairment and Dementia Awareness Study.

The research findings have been published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

The good news is that despite the diagnosis, nearly two thirds of this group did not consider themselves to be “ill,” but saw the condition as a sign of aging.

However, those who considered themselves to have an illness had lower mood and described more emotional consequences including anger, sadness, embarrassment, and a loss of confidence.

Source: Exeter University
Elderly man with dementia photo by shutterstock.

Perception of Dementia as Illness Drags People Down

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Perception of Dementia as Illness Drags People Down. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 3 Mar 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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