Dementia is an increasing focus for policymakers, civil organizations and multidisciplinary researchers. The most recent descriptive epidemiological research into dementia is enabling investigation into how the prevalence and incidence are changing over time. To establish clear trends, such comparisons need to be founded on population-based studies that use similar diagnostic and research methods consistently over time. This narrative Review synthesizes the findings from 14 studies that investigated trends in dementia prevalence (nine studies) and incidence (five studies) from Sweden, Spain, the UK, the Netherlands, France, the USA, Japan and Nigeria. Besides the Japanese study, these studies indicate stable or declining prevalence and incidence of dementia, and some provide evidence of sex-specific changes. No single risk or protective factor has been identified that fully explains the observed trends, but major societal changes and improvements in living conditions, education and healthcare might have favourably influenced physical, mental and cognitive health throughout an individual’s life course, and could be responsible for a reduced risk of dementia in later life. Analytical epidemiological approaches combined with translational neuroscientific research could provide a unique opportunity to explore the neuropathology that underlies changing occurrence of dementia in the general population.