Do You Remember Who You Are? The Pillars of Identity in Dementia

In Veljko Dubljevic & Frances Bottenberg (eds.), Living With Dementia. pp. 39-54 (2021)
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Loss of personal identity in dementia can raise a number of ethical considerations, including the applicability of advance directives and the validity of patient preferences that seem incongruous with a previous history of values. In this chapter, we first endorse the self-concept view as the most appropriate approach to personal continuity in healthcare. We briefly describe two different types of dementia, Alzheimer’s dementia (AD) and behavioral-variant frontotemporal dementia (bv-FTD). We identify elements considered important for the continuation of a self-concept, including continuation of memories, consistency in personality traits and personal preferences, and continued endorsement of certain moral tenets. We show that, depending on which element is considered most important for personal identity, continuity of a self-concept for individuals with distinct types of dementia will be affected and assessed differently. Utilizing a variety of empirical evidence, we argue that persistence of memory, personality traits, and preferences are not the most important for the maintenance of personal identity. Instead, as studies aimed to capture the folk-psychological view of personal continuity demonstrate, judgements about continuity depend primarily on the persistent commitment to widely shared moral beliefs. Because of that, we argue that individuals with bv-FTD are more likely to lose their sense of self than individuals whose dementia primarily affects memory, such as Alzheimer’s disease. We end the chapter by showing how the importance of moral beliefs for continuity of self can be used to provide guidance to health-care professionals when considering changes in preference by individuals with dementia.
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Archival date: 2021-04-02
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