Dementia and embodiment

Authored by: Pia Kontos

Routledge Handbook of Cultural Gerontology

Print publication date:  June  2015
Online publication date:  June  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415631143
eBook ISBN: 9780203097090
Adobe ISBN: 9781136221033


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Conceptions of the body are central not only to substantive work in the dementia field, but also to the philosophical underpinnings of the entire discipline of gerontology, where Western assumptions about the mind, body, and self affect theoretical perspectives and research paradigms alike. These same conceptions also influence the culture and organization of health care practices. In the last decade there has been a notable increase in efforts to expand understandings of dementia by incorporating the body; theorizing its interrelationship with history, culture, power, and discourse; and exploring implications of embodiment discourse for dementia care practice. Contributing to these efforts have been scholars from around the globe, including Canada (see for example Katz 2012, 2013, Kontos and Martin 2013, Kontos 2012a, Phinney and Chesla 2003), the United States (see for example Basting 2006, 2009, McLean 2006), the United Kingdom (see for example Coaten 2002, Downs 2013, Twigg 2007, 2010, Ward and Holland 2011), Sweden (see for example Hydén 2013, Hydén and Örulv 2009, Nyström and Lauritzen 2005), the Netherlands (see for example Hendriks 2012), and Australia (see for example Matthews 2006, Millett 2011). Emerging from this critical scholarship are explorations of dementia as subject to the constructive effects of surveillance, cultural priorities and discursive conventions, and also the potential of the body for creative self-expression. This emerging subfield of dementia studies has critically examined and called into question epistemological traditions (notably Cartesianism) that have been privileged in Western thinking for centuries and that have largely determined the ways in which dementia has been perceived in the health and social sciences. In this sense, a focus on the body and embodiment has greatly expanded the discourse on dementia through a rethinking of the cultural commitment to body/mind, body/self, and the biological/social oppositions and assumptions. This shift has, in turn, contributed significantly to improving the quality of dementia care. The aim of this chapter is to critically explore and review dimensions of this expanding research and literature, specifically in relation to three key themes to date: embodiment and selfhood; surveillance and discipline; and innovations in dementia care practice.

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