Obituary: Professor Thomas Kitwood

Wednesday 06 January 1999 01:02 GMT

THOMAS KITWOOD was a pioneer in the field of dementia care. He developed innovative research projects and training courses, challenging the "old culture of care". His aim was to understand, as far as is possible, what care is like from the standpoint of the person with dementia.

One of his major innovations was Dementia Care Mapping, an observational method for evaluating the quality of care in formal settings, which resulted from one of his first research projects. He was always interested and involved in research with the aim of following it through to practice. His book Dementia Reconsidered: the person comes first (1997) brought together all his work, developments and discoveries over the last 12 years.

Kitwood was born in 1937 in Boston, Lincolnshire, and educated at Cambridge, achieving a BA in Natural Sciences in 1960. He trained for the priesthood at Wycliffe Hall, and was ordained in 1962. After completing his National Service he went on to teach chemistry at Sherborne School in Dorset for seven years. He then moved to Uganda to teach chemistry at Busoga Boys School, where he also became school chaplain.

It was here that he wrote his first book What is Human? (1970), and in 1969 married Jenny Cooper. Their son, Andrew, was born in Uganda, and their daughter, Lucy, in Bradford after their return to England. Kitwood completed an MSc in the Psychology and Sociology of Education at Bradford in 1974. He followed this with a PhD in Social Psychology in 1977, and worked part-time at the university as a lecturer.

He was appointed a senior lecturer in psychology at Bradford University in 1984. His particular interest lay in counselling, psychotherapy and depth psychology. He became involved in dementia when he was commissioned to do a project for Bradford Health Authority.

His research interests were in the details of care practice, and long- term outcomes when care is of high quality. Several substantial projects led to innovations widely accepted in Britain and elsewhere. For example, over the last three years he developed the "Depth Psychology of Dementia Care" course, which related his experience of teaching depth psychology to the dementia field.

The idea was to provide students with an opportunity to explore and develop the feeling, emotional and intuitive parts of themselves, so as to enrich personal resources in their work and everyday life. Innovations of this kind have played a major part in improving the care of people with dementia, both in the community and in formal settings.

In 1992 he founded Bradford Dementia Group, initially a side-line. Its philosophy is based on a "person-centred" approach, quite simply to "treat others in a way you yourself would like to be treated".

The group moved from the department of Interdisciplinary Human Studies to the School of Health Studies, within Bradford University, in April 1998. It consists of eight core members, with 18 associates spread throughout the UK. These associates are authorised to use the group's innovations or to teach courses developed by the group and aligned to its approach to care .

In September 1998 Kitwood gained a personal chair from Bradford University and was appointed the Alois Alzheimer Professor of Psychogerontology. He was the author of numerous publications on dementia, including Person to Person: A Guide to the Care of Those with Failing Mental Powers, with Kathleen Bredin (1991); he recently won the Age Concern "book of the year" award for Dementia Reconsidered.

Besides his contribution to research Kitwood pioneered several key educational and training initiatives related to the care of people with dementia. The most popular is a three-day training course on the Person-Centred Approach and Dementia Care Mapping. The uniqueness of the method is that it takes the standpoint of the person with dementia. It is one of the group's most popular short courses, taught nationally and internationally.

As Tom Kitwood's work became known internationally the Bradford Dementia Group developed contacts with Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Holland, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the US. In 1998 he delivered Person-Centred Approach and Dementia Care Mapping courses in Sweden and the US, training in Ohio and North Carolina in October.

Tom Kitwood was a great communicator and well known for his charisma in delivering courses, presentations, conferences and seminars. A person of rare talents, he was an inspiration to many people world-wide. Although he had previously been a school chaplain, he renounced any particular religious attachment, but retained a concern with spirituality, conscious of the art of meditation and the importance of looking after the "inner self". He had a very active social life, and enjoyed long walks in the countryside, games of tennis, dancing and playing the guitar.

Thomas Marris Kitwood, psycho-gerontologist: born Boston, Lincolnshire 16 February 1937; Senior Lecturer in Psychology, Bradford University 1984- 98, Alois Alzheimer Professor of Psychogerontology 1998; married 1969 Jenny Cooper (one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved 1986); died Bradford 1 November 1998.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in