Experts from eight European countries (Belgium, France, The Netherlands, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom) and the disciplines of clinical psychology, general practice, geriatric medicine, old age psychiatry, medical sociology, nursing and voluntary body organisation met in 2003 to explore obstacles to recognition of and response to dementia in general practice within Europe. A modified focus group methodology was used in this exploratory process. Groups were conducted over a two-day period, with five sessions lasting 1-1.5 hours each. An adapted nominal group method was used to record themes arising from the group discussion, and these themes were used in a grounded theory approach to generate explanations for delayed recognition of and response to dementia. The overarching theme that arose from the focus groups was movement, which had three different expressions. These were: population movement and its consequences for localities, services and professional experience; the journey of the person with dementia along the disease process; and the referral pathway to access services and support. Change is the core issue in dementia care, with multiple pathways of change that need to be understood at clinical and organisational levels. Practitioners and people with dementia are engaged in managing emotional, social and physical risks, making explicit risk management a potentially important component of dementia care. The boundary between generalist and specialist services is a particular problem, with great potential for dysfunctionality. Stigma and ageism are variably distributed phenomena both within and between countries.