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Dementia and Personhood

Written by: Dunham

Identity thief: How dementia affects personhood

Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia can steal a person’s ability to think, recall memories, communicate and connect with others. In doing so, dementia slowly undermines qualities that help to define who we are. As someone loses their identity, are they still the same person?

What is personhood?

When doing any reading about personhood in the context of dementia, you’re likely to come across this definition: “A standing or status that is bestowed upon one human being, by others, in the context of relationship and social being. It implies recognition, respect and trust.”

This quote comes from a book called Dementia Reconsidered: the person comes first, published in 1997. The author, Tom Kitwood, was a psycho-gerontologist at the University of Bradford in England. He passed away in 1999, but his approach of centering dementia care around an individual’s personhood is still influential today. Kitwood was the first to apply the term “person-centred” to dementia care, and his definition of personhood is one of the Alzheimer Society of Canada’s guiding principles.

What is person-centred care?

Preserving personhood is at the heart of person-centred health care. As the name suggests, this is a model of care that views people with health conditions as people first. Person-centred (also known as patient-centred or client-centred) care recognizes a person’s inherent value and dignity, respects individual preferences and choices, and supports holistic well-being (body, mind and spirit). It prioritizes the needs of people with dementia over the needs of organizations. It also fosters relationships and collaboration among people with dementia, family members and healthcare staff to improve quality of life for everyone.

Respecting personhood

As dementia progresses, people may experience feelings such as incompetence, worthlessness, grief or loss of control. It is important to support your loved one’s personhood in different ways. Here are tips from the experts: 

Additional resources

Guidelines for Care: Person-centred care of people with dementia living in care homes

This framework from the Alzheimer Society of Canada explains the person-centred approach to dementia care.

PC P.E.A.R.L.S.®: 7 key elements of person-centred care

The Alzheimer Society of Canada launched this culture-change initiative in 2014. It was created for healthcare professionals at long-term-care facilities, but the families and caregivers of people with dementia can also learn from its recommendations.

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