Dignity counts when caring for older people

Older people feel that their health problems pose a challenge to their sense of independence, dignity and identity and sometimes the health care they are given makes things worse. According to research funded by UK Research Council’s New Dynamics of Ageing programme (NDA), healthcare providers must avoid taking a ‘blanket view’ of how to help older people cope with the ageing process.

Dignity is a complex concept, understood in different ways and often most clearly when under threat. In later life health problems can be complex and life-threatening and lead to a loss of independence, identity and dignity. In these circumstances the support and care of others becomes crucial, increasingly so towards the end of life. This study explored the experiences of thirty-four older people whose health problems created a need for support and care.

The study carried out by Dr Liz Lloyd (University of Bristol) and her colleagues (Universities of Kent, Bristol and Nottingham) found that people were often surprised by the impact that illness and growing old had on their lives.

The study asked people about the changes occurring in their everyday lives and whether they felt the help they received promoted or undermined their dignity. Their accounts highlight the ways in which older people adapt to a growing need for help whilst also striving to maintain their independence. By focusing exclusively on their experiences and perspectives this study contributes to a fuller understanding of this final stage of the life course and how dignity can be maintained.

Further information

Liz Lloyd. L. (2012) Maintaining Dignity in Later Life: a longitudinal qualitative study of older people’s experiences of support and care. Bristol, University of Bristol. https://www.newdynamics.group.shef.ac.uk/maintaining-dignity-in-later-life.html

The New Dynamics of Ageing Programme is a seven year multidisciplinary research initiative with the ultimate aim of improving quality of life of older people. The programme is a unique collaboration between five UK Research Councils – Economic & Social Research Council, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, Medical Research Council and Arts & Humanities Research Council – and is the largest and most ambitious research programme on ageing ever mounted in the UK.