I am, thou art: personal identity in dementia

Catherine Oppenheimer

in Dementia

Published on behalf of Oxford University Press

Published in print December 2005 | ISBN: 9780198566151
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191754418 | DOI:

Series: International Perspectives in Philosophy & Psychiatry

I am, thou art: personal identity in dementia

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As a non-philosopher, I find it difficult to think of personhood in the abstract; all my experience is of the practical and the particular, the fine detail, the unique oddities of the people whom I have met face to face or in their writing.

Consequently this chapter is less an argument than a sequence of examples—variations on the theme of personhood; and especially personhood communicated through language, the body, and the social context.

I have ordered my examples roughly according to the relationships in which they occurred, but these are arbitrary divisions, scarcely more significant than to sort the coloured glass of a kaleidoscope into squares or oblongs or triangles.

The essence of our difficulty with personhood in dementia is the scarcity of reports from the inhabitants of that country and hence our reliance on guesswork to reach an empathetic understanding of the experience. I therefore begin with one man's remarkable account of his ‘shattered world’.

I continue with other accounts of the relationship of the person with himself as the illness takes hold; I consider personhood in the communication between close family members; then the role of professional carers in sustaining the individuality of the person they care for; and lastly the role of inanimate things.

Chapter.  5531 words. 

Subjects: Psychiatry

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