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Many people still don’t know the difference between the symptoms of dementia and the ‘normal’ forgetfulness which comes with age, a new study has revealed.

A lack of awareness about Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia is leading those who may have the condition to simply dismiss it as normal age-related forgetfulness and miss out on vital treatment.

Age is not always to blame for memory loss, but far too many people believe it is, say authors of the study from Trinity College, Dublin, which included research from 15 different countries conducted over the last 20 years.

And while misplacing keys or forgetting telephone numbers is a normal part of ageing, other symptoms of memory loss such as getting lost in a familiar place, or forgetting how to cook a meal or drive a car, are not. Yet more than 75 per cent of people can’t distinguish between them.

The study also revealed that three out of four people don’t realise they can help to prevent dementia by improving their physical health, or that high blood pressure and high cholesterol can increase the chance of developing it.

‘A common misconception is that individuals have no control over whether they develop dementia,’ explains lead researcher Suzanne Cahill.

Limited understanding can also lead people with dementia – and their families – to become isolated. ‘The individual may experience stigma, embarrassment and ridicule and retreat from activities once enjoyed,’ adds Suzanne Cahill. ‘Caregivers may also experience social isolation since neighbours, friends and family gradually withdraw, not knowing how to behave.’

If you want advice about memory problems or need support dealing with the social isolation or stigma the condition is causing go to our Advice pages.