Professor Thomas Kitwood was the first in his field to look at people diagnosed with dementia and see beyond the diagnosis. He authored many texts throughout his impressive career and a year before his death in 1998, Dementia Reconsidered: The Person Comes First was published. It is considered his greatest work. Within those pages are years of studies Kitwood carried out examining the experiences of people living with a Dementia. His findings challenged the old culture of care by advocating for a new one. One that would be built from compassion.
This new culture of care would transform the general view of dementia from a disease that progressively destroys a person’s identity, to a view that sees dementia primarily as a cognitive impairment that is fully supportable. How the person will be affected by their diagnosis will depend profoundly on the quality of the care they receive. He laid out what compassionate caring entails and the priorities for understanding a person’s condition.
For example, the old culture of care taught that people living with a Dementia had ‘problem behaviours’ that needed to be dealt with skillfully and efficiently. Kitwood however, understood that all behaviours should be viewed as an attempt of communication relating to need. Instead of labelling the behaviour as challenging, he believed it is up to the caregiver to interpret these expressive behaviours and figure out the unmet need of the person so that they can then meet it.
Kitwood identified the six fundamental needs that people living with a Dementia require to live a life of fulfilment. Comfort, Attachment, Inclusion, Occupation and Identity. Five great overlapping needs, coming together in the sixth central need for Love. This formed the figure he includes in his book that we now know as the Kitwood flower. The flower symbolizes what can be achieved when you lead with empathy and kindness. From it, was developed what we now know as person-centred care. An approach that ensures each individual is guided through their dementia journey with dignity and focuses on sustaining a high quality of life.
Evolve Care Group are Dementia specialists who will never underestimate the power of human connection. Along with Kitwood’s philosophies, Evolve developed a Connections Count Movement which upholds the legacy of Kitwood and embodies the Groups model of care, perfectly encapsulating who Evolve are and what we do.
The movement saw the creation of a series of magazines that blossomed from parts of Kitwood’s flower: IDENTITY, OCCUPATION and INCLUSION.
‘There is a danger of underestimating what people with dementia can do, when there is a serious & sustained attempt to meet their main psychological needs. The illusion of incapacity has been created because life was so often set up for them on impossible terms.’ – Professor Thomas Kitwood.
Thanks to Kitwood, a Dementia diagnosis is no longer as daunting a prospect as it was once was. People living with a Dementia are finally living life on their own terms.