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Understanding Personhood in Dementia: Tom Kitwood's Pioneering Work

Dementia is a complex and challenging condition that not affects cognitive abilities but also alters the way individuals perceive themselves and others. In the realm of dementia care, the late Tom Kitwood's groundbreaking work on personhood has provided a profound framework for understanding and improving the quality of life for those living with dementia. This blog post delves into Kitwood's contributions to the field, exploring the concept of personhood and its implications for dementia care.

Outline of head with jigsaw pieces. Purple overlay.

The Concept of Personhood

Tom Kitwood, a British psychologist and renowned dementia researcher, introduced the concept of personhood in the late 20th century. According to Kitwood, personhood is the status that is bestowed upon individuals by others in society. It goes beyond the clinical aspects of dementia and emphasises the importance of recognising the humanity of each person, regardless of cognitive decline.

Kitwood argued that even in the presence of severe cognitive impairment, individuals with dementia maintain their intrinsic worth, emotions, and the right to be treated with dignity and respect. Personhood, as defined by Kitwood, involves acknowledging the uniqueness of each person, their life history, and the importance of maintaining meaningful relationships.

Dementia: Person-Centered Care adn Relationships | Trinity College Dublin

The Six Psychological Needs

Kitwood proposed that every individual, regardless of their cognitive state, has six essential psychological needs: love, comfort, attachment, inclusion, identity, and occupation. These needs are fundamental to the preservation of personhood and should be addressed in dementia care to enhance the well-being of individuals living with the condition.

  1. Love: At the core of our existence, there is an innate need for both receiving and giving love. The sense of being loved and accepted is integral to our survival, ingrained in us from the moment we come into this world. Love takes various forms, extending from affection for individuals, enjoyment of certain activities, and appreciation for favourite meals to profound connections with the divine and the cultivation of self-love.

  2. Comfort: Providing physical and emotional comfort is crucial in maintaining the personhood of those with dementia. This includes attending to their physical needs, such as warmth, nutrition, and safety, as well as addressing emotional well-being through positive interactions and reassurance.

  3. Attachment: Recognising the importance of social connections, Kitwood highlighted the need for meaningful relationships. Caregivers, family members, and healthcare professionals play a vital role in fostering a sense of attachment and belonging for individuals with dementia.

  4. Inclusion: Dementia should not result in isolation. Kitwood emphasised the significance of social inclusion, ensuring that individuals with dementia are active participants in their communities and maintain a sense of belonging.

  5. Identity: Preserving the individual's sense of self is crucial. Acknowledging their personal history, preferences, and achievements helps maintain a strong sense of identity and dignity despite cognitive decline.

  6. Occupation: Meaningful activities contribute to a sense of purpose and well-being. Kitwood stressed the importance of engaging individuals with dementia in activities that align with their interests and abilities, promoting a sense of accomplishment.

A purple outline of a flower and petals displaying the words "love", "attachment", "comfort", "identity", "occupation" and "inclusion". Purple decorative swirls and drops in corners.
The Main Psychological Needs of People with Dementia | Tom Kitwood

Implications for Dementia Care

Kitwood's personhood framework has profound implications for dementia care practices. It challenges healthcare professionals, caregivers, and society at large to adopt a person-centered approach, shifting the focus from the disease to the person. This approach encourages empathy, understanding, and tailored care plans that honour the unique needs of each individual with dementia.


Tom Kitwood's work on personhood and dementia has left an indelible mark on the field of dementia care. By emphasising the intrinsic value of individuals with dementia and recognising their psychological needs, Kitwood has paved the way for a more compassionate and holistic approach to caregiving. Implementing the principles of personhood in dementia care not only enhances the quality of life for those affected but also promotes a more inclusive and empathetic society.

Interested in learning more? You can book onto one of our Health & Social Care courses by calling 0141 459 0894 or emailing

Kind regards,

Slanjava Learning

-slàinte mhath-

The information provided is for guidance and not a substitute for medical advice. The author bears no liability for inaccuracies or mistreatment, and professional medical consultation is advised.

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