General practitioners’ perceptions of the stigma of dementia and the role of reciprocity

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A qualitative exploration of the stigma of dementia reported that general practitioners described lack of reciprocity as one way in which people with dementia are perceived within society. This was closely linked to their perception of dementia as a stigma. In this article, we explore whether general practitioners perceive people with dementia as lacking reciprocity and, if so, if this is linked with societal opinions about dementia as a stigma. The implications of both perceptions of people with dementia failing to reciprocate and of stigma for timely diagnosis are explored. Our approach is to follow the thread of reciprocity in the data from our initial study. In this follow-up study, general practitioners’ perceptions of societal views of people with dementia included a perception of a lack of reciprocity specifically linked with; failing to respond to human contact, the absence of an appropriate return on social investment and failing to contribute to, or being a burden on, society. General practitioners reported a link between societal perceptions of lack of reciprocity and stereotypes about advanced dementia, difficulties communicating with people with dementia, and lack of opportunities for people with dementia to reciprocate. General practitioners occupy a key position, they can challenge stereotypes and, with support and targeted training about communicating with people living with dementia, can emphasize the ways in which people with dementia can communicate, thereby enhancing their potential to reciprocate. Such changes have implications for improved care and quality of life through the continued maintenance of social inclusion and perceptions of personhood.

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