Personhood and dementia: revisiting Tom Kitwood's ideas



Publication Details

Dewing, J. (2008). Personhood and dementia: revisiting Tom Kitwood's ideas. International Journal of Older People Nursing, 3 (1), 3-13.


Person-centred care is often cited as an aim of gerontological nursing and promotion of personhood is said to be the basis for person-centred care. As such, it forms a cornerstone value for many gerontological nurses, particularly those working in dementia care. Tom Kitwood's ideas and definition of personhood are widely referred to in the literature and used in the dementia care field. More recently, there is a move to critique and partially reject Kitwood's ideas on personhood. This paper has three aims: (i) to explore some central ideas around key theories of personhood (ii) to critique Kitwood's work on personhood. (iii) To summarize current critiques of Kitwood's ideas and provide a response that outlines why Kitwoods' ideas are still relevant. It is suggested many critiques ignore Kitwoods' ultimate purpose; that of moral concern for 'others'. However, the main criticism put forward in this paper is that, rather than completely rejecting personhood theories, Kitwood locates his work on what it means to be a person within a traditional Cartesian personhood framework, albeit from a revised or pragmatic viewpoint. Finally, it is suggested that definitions of persons and personhood need to take account of the body and time (corporeality and temporality) and gerontological nursing may want to reassess how much allegiance is given to basing nursing frameworks on the concept of personhood.

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