‘Oh he was forgettable’: Construction of self identity through use of communicative coping behaviors in the discourse of persons with cognitive impairment
Communication involving persons with cognitive impairment (CI) associated memory issues requires particular attention in the clinical setting due to the sensitive and often difficult institutional work that must take place between the patient and his or her physician. An individual with CI is often tested for memory issues during the office visit, generating a potentially face-threatening situation. Said individual may attempt to preserve positive identity or ‘save face’ (Gumperz, 1982) by using communicative coping behaviors (CCBs). This study characterizes the use of CCBs (e.g., accounts and humor) by persons with CI in clinical interviews and provides important insight on how to improve doctor—patient communication involving people with CI. In order to describe and compare CCBs used by persons with cognitive impairment, and those used by cognitively normal individuals, verbatim, in-office transcripts from both groups were analyzed. Results showed that participants with CI used more memory accounts than cognitively normal individuals and similar amounts of humor in order to save face and construct a normal identity. These data help to inform doctors and caregivers regarding the ways in which persons with CI construct and preserve a positive sense of self-identity through communication.