There was an Old Woman: Maintenance of Identity by People with Alzheimer’s Dementia

  • Dena Shenk


In this chapter, we examine how people with Alzheimer’s disease maintain their identity and sense of self as evidenced in their conversation over time. An individual’s ability to produce and retain self-identity is a requisite skill for social interaction. Researchers have demonstrated that this ability is not destroyed by the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s disease itself (Kitwood 1990; 1993, 1997; Kitwood and Bredin 1992a; 1992b; Sabat and Harré 1992). The neurological impairment caused by Alzheimer’s disease does, however, make it more difficult for the individual to effectively organize and sustain their various “selves.” Focusing on causative factors within the social milieu, social science research is turning to studies of social interactions which may influence the progression of the disease (Golander & Raz, 1996; Kitwood, 1990, 1993, 1997; Kitwood & Bredin, 1992b; Nussbaum, 1991; Sabat & Harre, 1992; Sabat 2002) and its social causes (Kitwood 1990). Utilizing a lifecourse perspective, our focus in this chapter is on how the person with dementia retains and communicates a sense of identity by recounting memories and life experiences, personal values and views. The focus is on the lifetime of experiences and choices that the individual brings with him or her to later life and the experience of living with Alzheimer’s disease.


Social Identity Personal Identity Informal Caregiver Personal Pronoun Dementia Care 
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© Dena Shenk 2005

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  • Dena Shenk

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