Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry

, Volume 41, Issue 4, pp 541–563 | Cite as

Seeing a Brain Through an Other: The Informant’s Share in the Diagnosis of Dementia

  • Laurence Anne TessierEmail author
Original Paper


This article takes up the neuroscientific assumption of our brains as “solitary” and contrasts this understanding with the description of actual clinical practices. Drawing on observations of clinical consultations and team meetings in a world famous US center for the diagnosis of dementia, I examine how the “informant”, a member of the patient’s family, participates in the diagnosis process. Based on specific situations in which the informant is judged to be a “bad” one, I inquire as to how clinicians use what they understand of the affective relationships between the patient and the bad informant in order to make a diagnosis. The diagnosis of dementia in an individual is shown to draw on relational dimensions in the patient’s life, made visible and enunciable only when problematic. This inquiry therefore brings out how these neurologists, even though they are engaged in a neuroscientific paradigm that conceives the brain as a self-sufficient cognitive machinery, nevertheless do consider what links us to the brains sharing our lives, in order to make sense of our networks of neurons.


Neuroscience Diagnostic work Attachments Relationships Informant 



This work could not have come into being without the patients and the medical team at the Memory Clinic, I thank them deeply. I am indebted to the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research (#8512) and to the Fondation Plan Alzheimer for supporting this inquiry. I am also grateful to Anthony Stavrianakis, Madeleine Akrich, David Pontille, Antoine Hennion, Lyle Fearnley and two anonymous reviewers at Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry for their criticisms and suggestions.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The author declares that she has no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the Ethical Standards of the Institutional and/or National Research Committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Mines ParistechPSL Research University, Centre de Sociologie de l’InnovationParisFrance

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