This paper examines the assumption that dementia in old age is a universal phenomenon that will vary in its prevalence and manifestation because of social and cultural factors. It finds that while researchers have been successful in demonstrating the commonality of dementia, they have been less successful in showing whether or not it varies across cultures and between social and ethnic groupings. The inconclusiveness of findings may, in part, be a function of diagnostic differences and the research methodologies employed. New instruments and measures are being devised to overcome these problems. However, the sociocultural context in which dementia occurs and the meaning of the disorder to those involved (as sufferers and caregivers) are often missing dimensions. In particular, there is little knowledge about how the disorders of old age in non-Western settings are experienced and understood. In this respect anthropology has a special contribution to make to research on dementia.