Who are you? How do you know who you are? Identity is a vital need we all have to know who we are. And it is jeopardized by the forgetfulness of dementia and affirmed or threatened by the way people around those with dementia treat them.

Our identity as persons is formed in the soup of relationships, memories, experiences and things that have meaning for us in our lives. Identity can be associated with our roles in life.  These may be occupational roles or personal roles.

What we do or have done for work may tell us who we are. I am a carpenter because I do carpenter things. I carry and use tools. I build things. I measure, saw, hammer, screw and glue. The clothes we wear for work also tell us who we are. A carpenter may wear overalls and a beanie. An accountant may wear a suit and tie to work. A farmer a thick jumper in winter and a hat.

Our identity can provide us with social standing. Because of our identity role others may offer us respect in the way they speak to us, confirming a sense of ourselves. “Hello Andy, you old bugger!” tells me that I am a friend to this person who feels fondly enough toward me to address me in a familiar way. I can now remember that my name is Andy and that I have a friend, likely an old friend. IF someone addresses us as Mr, Mrs or Ms we know they do not know us well or that our relationship with them is more formal than intimate.

If someone uses a nickname or familiar shortened version our name it tells us about their relationship with us. They feel close to us. They know us and have some affection for us. It is worth bearing in mind that not everyone is invited into the social space where it is appropriate to use a nickname. Often it is not appropriate for a younger person to use a nickname for an older person nor to use affectionate terms such as “darling”, “love” or sweetheart”. If you are not sure, wait till you sense the nature of your relationship with them and if possible ask if they would be comfortable with you calling them the name. Check it out. That in itself signals respect.