How do we think about dementia?

Document Type


Publication details

Lee, K & Moloney, G 2018, 'How do we think about dementia?', abstract presented to the 15th Annual Psychology Honours Research Conference, Southern Cross University, Coffs Harbour, 4-5 October.

Abstract available on Open Access

Peer Reviewed



Aim: Exposure to dementia - operationalised as exposure to dementia information, increased contact, and emotional closeness with a person with dementia, has been associated with improved knowledge and attitudes towards dementia. However, little is known about what people think when they think about dementia, and, how exposure may affect these perceptions. Two studies were conducted. Study 1 drew from social representations theory and investigated the perceptions of dementia while Study 2 investigated whether levels of exposure to dementia differentiated perceptions of dementia. Methods: In Study 1, 200 University participants completed a word association task, where they wrote the first seven words that sprung to mind when they thought about dementia. In Study 2, 172 University and community members completed a Dementia Perceptions Scale constructed from the most frequently occurring responses in Study 1, a Dementia Attitude Scale and a Dementia Exposure Scale. Results: Findings revealed a shared pattern in how dementia was socially understood that coalesced around the image of dementia as a disease. Analyses of the Dementia Perception scale revealed two factors: dementia as a disease and the experience associated with the person with dementia. Perceptions of Dementia as a disease were negative, whilst perceptions of the experience with the person with dementia were more positive. Exposure to dementia did not differentiate perceptions of dementia, as a disease nor as the experience with a person with dementia. Increased exposure to dementia information, more contact with a person with dementia, and increased emotional closeness was associated with more positive attitudes towards dementia. Conclusion: The results highlight the need to examine how dementia is portrayed in educational interventions and policy making, and tentatively suggest the portrayal of dementia should focus more towards the experience associated with the person with dementia, rather than the disease itself.