The challenge of maintaining personal dignity in the nursing home A qualitative study among Dutch nursing home residents. Mariska Oosterveld-Vlug, MSc¹ Roeline Pasman, PhD ¹ Isis van Gennip, MSc ¹ Martien Muller, PhD² Dick Willems, MD, PhD³ Bregje Onwuteaka-Philipsen, PhD ¹.
The challenge of maintaining personal dignity in the nursing home
A qualitative study among Dutch nursing home residents
Mariska Oosterveld-Vlug, MSc¹
Roeline Pasman, PhD¹
Isis van Gennip, MSc¹
Martien Muller, PhD²
Dick Willems, MD, PhD³
Bregje Onwuteaka-Philipsen, PhD¹
¹ Department of Public and Occupational Health, EMGO Institute for Health and Care Research, Expertise Center for Palliative Care,
VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
² Department of Nursing Home Medicine, EMGO Institute for Health and Care Research, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
³ Department of General Practice, Division Clinical Methods and Public Health, Academic Medical Center/University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Nursing home residents are exposed to diverse factors which may be associated with loss of personal dignity: they experience functional incapacity, are heavily reliant on nurses, have little privacy and few belongings. To help them withstanding these threats, it is important to investigate the concept of dignity from the residents’ perspective.
To gain more insight in the way Dutch nursing home residents experience their dignity and the factors that hamper or preserve this.
Dignity hampered because of functional incapacity rather than because of living in a nursing home
The fact that residents were admitted to a nursing home was not degrading in itself, but seen merely as an inevitable consequence of having lost functional capacity:
Nursing home aspects that hamper personal dignity
For example,having to wait for help and a dearth of time and attention from nursing staff could violate dignity:
I feel that impatient haste with which they do everything, they are kind of jumping about next to you, desperate to move on. It’s a routine and that’s their approach to everything. I do find that inattentive, I do think it makes the patients feel less dignified. You mustn’t forget you are dealing with a gentleman.
Man, 88; CVA, problems with kidney
Yes, this is a completely different kind of life, you don’t really have a life. Lying there all day, it’s not really a life the way I am now. That’s because of my illness. It’s got nothing to do with the nursing home. My illness, that’s the source of all the misery. Otherwise I wouldn’t be lying here. I’m glad there are such things as nursing homes. It would be a sorry state of affairs if they weren’t there. If they weren’t there, it would be undignified.
Man, 66; amyotrophic sclerosis
Nursing home aspects that preserve personal dignity
Good professional care (e.g. being treated withrespect, being taken seriously and receiving good quality care) could prevent dignity from being violated:
Violation of dignity caused by feeling discarded and stigmatized by society
By living in a nursing home, many residents believed they were no longer part of society. In getting older and less able to function, they felt stigmatized by society, e.g. when other people treated them as if they were insane:
I’m proud of the fact that here in the home they take people’s feelings into account. They don’t do that everywhere. So if they wash you, that means that they do it properly, that they don’t do a rush job and then off they go again and now you have to eat because it’s meal time. No, they do it all very properly, you know. Attentively.
Woman, 75; hydrocefalus
You notice that when you get old, people stop taking you seriously: “That person’s so old, we’ll just park him in a corner then he won’t bother us any more.” That’s often what happens. You no longer count. Young people today are more concerned with their own things than with all those old people. They’re really not interested in all that whining. They don’t want anything to do with you.
Woman, 85; arthrosis
RECCOMENDATION FOR PRACTICE
To support residents in their challenge of maintaining dignity, nursing home staff, relatives and society should pay more attention to the way they address and treat residents.