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Int J Health Serv. 2006;36(2):355-75.

Dignity under threat? A study of the experiences of older people in the United Kingdom.

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  • 1Medical Research Council, Health Services Research Collaboration, University of Bristol, England.


Theoretical accounts have offered a general understanding of the social significance and importance of dignity and suggest that older age may threaten dignity by structuring and limiting the opportunities for participation and/or social recognition. Micro-sociological research has shown how older people negotiate their identity, in the face of its erosion by the aging body and disability and the domination of health and social care workers. These theoretical approaches inform the study presented here, which explores the meaning and experience of dignity for older people in their daily lives. Older people's accounts were elicited through a series of focus groups with participants living in England and Wales. Participants were selected according to predefined criteria to represent a range of different socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds, levels of fitness, and home circumstances. Personal identity and autonomy were the aspects of dignity most meaningful to the participants, and discussions tended to focus mainly on when personal identity and autonomy were threatened or violated in the context of the provision of health and social care. The authors discuss the extent to which older people's discourse on dignity resonates with the theoretical discourse.

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