In the Mind of Dementia: Neurobiological Empathy, Incommensurability, and the Dementia Tojisha Movement in Japan

Living in the world’s leading superaging society, Japanese are confronted with a tsunami of dementia that has generated fear of becoming mentally incommensurable to oneself and to others. Based on three years of fieldwork in various clinical settings, including a memory clinic in Tokyo, I show how people with dementia (dementia tojishas) and doctors have employed three approaches to overcoming incommensurability: psychotherapeutic, neurobiological, and ecological. With a primary focus on the neurobiological, I show how tojishas and doctors try to cultivate what I call “neurobiological empathy,” asking people to imagine not just how to be together with those with dementia but also what it is to be (in the mind of someone) with dementia. Investigating both the effects and limits of the neurobiologization of dementia, I ask how the dementia tojisha movement can work toward diminishing the preexisting fear about dementia and supplementing incommensurability with understanding and empathy.

Please enjoy this documentary, referenced in the article:
Dementia tojisha movements are springing up across Japan. This film depicts one effort of working toward a better society for people with dementia, featuring Eiko, who lives with dementia and who is the mother of Dr. Shigeta, a leading dementia expert in Japan. Younger people from the community gathered to clean up their house so it can be opened as a community center. Eiko now conducts tea ceremony there, with her son helping to create an open space for people with dementia to come and mingle freely with those from the community.

Hirata, T. 2019. Dementia Tojisha Movement in Japan.

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