Dementia should be considered a disability rather than a disease, maintains a new report [PDF] from the Mental Health Foundation.

“Viewing dementia from the social model perspective—as a disability—provides an alternative framework to rethink and reimagine dementia as a rights, social justice and equality issue,” said Toby Williamson, head of development and later life for the United Kingdom-based foundation. “The use of ‘disability’ is a means to an end, not a negative, pejorative or stigmatizing label to be imposed on individuals. ‘Disability’ in this context is not intended to focus on what a person can’t do, but rather the wider societal context in which a person with a disability lives their life and what they can do.”

Although treating and reducing the effects of dementia are important goals, say the report’s authors, “it is also crucial that people with dementia have their rights respected and upheld. This requires more attention being paid to the impairments caused by dementia and how they impact on the person’s everyday life, including the way society treats them.”

Viewing dementia as a disability would encourage policy to be developed and services designed, delivered and monitored by people living with dementia, they continue. For instance, services could support people with dementia to be active participants, not simply recipients, of services. “The social model of disability will provide greater autonomy, dignity and influence to people with dementia,” the authors state.