Tuesday, 17 April 2012

A person is more than their cognitive ability

It's obvious really, but this extract from a Gransnet Q & A with Professor Alistair Burns, the government's 'dementia tsar', explains with great force and clarity why a person-centred approach is vital when dealing with dementia  (and the same could probably be said of all mental health conditions).
A criticism of the focus on dementia is that it puts too much emphasis on what is lost (memory) and not enough on what endures.

This plays into ageism by creating the idea that life is a process of inevitable decline.

The obsession with cognitive ability - which is actually prevalent throughout life, from the classroom onwards - leads us to a very narrow view of human nature and how to age well.

Do you agree that stereotypes of dementia are creating the idea that cognitive ability inevitably falls away in middle age? And that this obsession makes it very difficult to respect the selfhood of older people?

How do we treat the disease while avoiding this negativity?
Dear bridgeofsighs,

You raise a very important point in terms of re-ordering the way in which we regard and treat people with dementia. While we do know that cognitive ability (predominantly memory) does decline with age, there is the assumption, which as you say is completely false, that dementia is part of normal ageing. This brings up the profound therapeutic nihilism to which you are referring and, as you say, can lead to a narrow view of human nature.

You raise the key point of selfhood of older people. In dementia we call that personhood and the preservation of personhood enshrined in person-centred care is a key aspect of improving the treatment of people with dementia.

In terms of your last question, about treating the disease while avoiding this negative view, our awareness campaigns - while directed at alerting people to the early signs and symptoms of dementia - will help in this regard. The honesty and openness of people like Sir Terry Pratchett in declaring his Alzheimer’s and how he is living well with dementia is also an important part of rebuffing this negativity.

1 comment:

  1. Totally agree. My Mom has short term memory, might not remember the sentence she just said and say it again, but her cognition is still pretty good. She is mostly logical and lucid, and still "my Mom". I have let it be known to let her do ALL SHE CAN for herself while she can and treat her with the dignity and respect she's always had and expects.