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.