Community-dwelling Older Adults' Perceptions of Dignity: Core Meanings, Challenges, Supports and Opportunities

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community, gerontology, autonomy, ageing, older adults, qualitative research


Dignity is a universally important issue for all people, and particularly vital for older adults who face multiple losses associated with ageing. In the United States of America and beyond, the maintenance of dignity is a key aim of policy and service provision for older people. Yet surprisingly little research has been conducted into the meaning of dignity to community-based older adults in the context of everyday life. As life expectancy continues to increase worldwide, unprecedented numbers of people are living longer than ever before. The majority of older adults will face declining health and other factors that may impact dignity in the course of ageing in their communities. This paper reports on a study that explored older people's understandings and experiences of dignity through focus groups and a survey. Three key components of dignity are identified: autonomy, relational and self-identity. In addition, the paper discusses a range of factors that can facilitate or inhibit a sense of dignity for older people, including long-term health issues, sensory deficits and resilience to life events. Finally, the implications of these findings for policy and practice are considered in the context of American social structures and values.

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Ageing & Society, v. 34, issue 8, p. 1292-1313

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