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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The disremembered

Dementia undermines all of our philosophical assumptions about the coherence of the self. But that might be a good thing

By Charles Leadbeater
Originally published March 26, 2015

Here are two excerpts:

The memory-based account of identity is powerful, deeply rooted and dangerously partial. It will direct us to potential memory cures – a mixture of implants and drugs – that will almost certainly disappoint as much as they excite. Memory is not created in a little box in the brain, but by diffuse and dispersed circuits of neurons firing in concert. Someone with dementia would need more than an implant: they would need their brain refreshed and rewired. And still the nagging question would remain: are they the same person?


The notion of an embedded identity takes us into much more fertile territory when it comes to considering meaningful care for dementia sufferers. It implies that the main challenge is to work imaginatively and empathetically to find common ground, creating conversational topics and cues that help make connections with people, despite their failing memory. As the British psychologist Oliver James explains in Contented Dementia (2008), this requires more skill and persistence than most conversations demand, precisely because its pre-suppositions cannot be taken for granted. My 85-year-old mother-in-law, for example, cannot always remember that she has a preserving pan, but that does not stop her enjoying making (and, even more, talking about making) marmalade.

The entire article is here.