Person-Centered Dementia Care: The Legacy of Tom Kitwood

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Dawn Brooker


Tom Kitwood died at the age of 61 years in 1998. His first degree was in Natural Sciences at Cambridge, and he was an ordained Anglican priest who taught chemistry and worked as a school chaplain in Uganda. Having lost his faith following the massacres he witnessed there in the early 1970s, Tom returned to the United Kingdom and settled in Bradford, where he completed his PhD in Interdisciplinary Human Studies, becoming a lecturer and eventually a professor in 1998. This potted account of his career does not easily explain how he became one of the most influential figures in dementia care. Nearly 30 years on, his name is still synonymous with person-centered dementia care. I was privileged to know Tom Kitwood as a mentor and a friend. I first heard him speak at a conference in 1988 when I was working as a clinical psychologist in UK psychiatric services for older people. My work in dementia studies has been so intertwined with Tom Kitwood’s influence that I find it impossible to provide an objective review of his legacy. What I provide here are personal reflections, grounded in my experience over the past 35 years that I hope will provide a useful context for understanding the field of dementia within person centered medicine.

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