Dementia – VSI


Dementia – a Very Short Introduction

(Oxford University Press, published 23 July 2020)

If you’d like to buy the book, please consider Blackwell’s or Waterstones, not Amazon; or the OUP website, above.


Please note that as an academic, I cannot act as a clinical consultant. If you are concerned about your memory, concentration, mood, or other aspects of brain health please consult a medical professional, or one of the organisations listed on my Advice page.

About the VSI

Following on from The Fragile Brain, I was commissioned to write a very different book about dementia. It’s part of the prestigious and long-running Very Short Introductions series (2020 marks its 25th year) from Oxford University Press. VSIs are designed to give a broad overview of a topic, so whereas The Fragile Brain is a fairly deep dive into dementia research, the range of the VSI is broader, with more on symptoms, types of dementia, and treatments.

If you’re looking for an introductory guide, then the VSI is for you. If you’re looking to understand dementia research and the bodily processes we think are important in dementia (e.g. inflammation), then I would suggest The Fragile Brain. Please bear in mind the following caveat, though. Readers and reviewers have praised my ability to make difficult ideas accessible with clear explanations, but there’s only so far you can go in a topic as complicated as this. Dementia science is not for anyone who likes to keep things simple, and The Fragile Brain is not the easiest of reads.

The science of dementia, which is relevant to much more than dementia, aims to understand what makes and keeps human brains healthy … or not. It’s an extremely interdisciplinary field: genetics, biochemistry, neuroscience, psychology, immunology, and economics are just some of the contributors. It’s also fast-changing, driven on the one hand by astonishing advances in tech — from brain imaging to optogenetics to CRISPR — and on the other by the economic, social, and personal costs of brain ill-health. Around the world, governments are feeling the pressure from ageing populations, and looking for policies to help them age more healthily and thus defer the onset of severe brain dysfunction. Given the grim news emerging about neurological effects of the Covid-19 pandemic (e.g. encephalitis and strokes), that pressure is likely to increase.

Not all the news is bleak, however. There is, to date, no cure for dementia; but that doesn’t mean we’re all powerless. One of the most hopeful messages of both my books is just how much we already know about how to look after ourselves and others, and just how much brilliant new research — in only the last few years — has opened up research into new treatments. The VSI sets out steps we can take to lessen the risk of experiencing dementia, and to ease its symptoms. It also discusses changes we need from our governments, like reforming social care and taking air pollution seriously. And despite the book’s scientific details, it never forgets that people with dementia are always, beautifully and irreplaceably, people. I hope readers will find it accessible and respectful as well as interesting and informative.


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