Sustaining citizenship: people with dementia and the phenomenon of social death

Nurs Ethics. 2011 Sep;18(5):662-71. doi: 10.1177/0969733011408049.


Social death is apparent when people are considered unworthy of social participation and deemed to be dead when they are alive. Some marginalized groups are more susceptible to this treatment than others, and one such group is people with dementia. Studies into discrimination towards older people are well documented and serve as a source of motivation of older people's social movements worldwide. Concurrently, theories of ageing and care have been forthcoming in a bid to improve the quality of responses to older people in times of need. Included in this theorizing has been the analysis of values and approaches that paid carers convey to citizens who require their help. In this article, the values and approaches of social workers and mental health nurses bring to people with dementia are considered within the context of social life and social death. It is based on a small study that undertook to critically examine how participation of people with dementia was facilitated. A thanatological lens was used to interpret inclusive and exclusive practices which potentially create opportunity for participation or reinforce the loss of citizenship for older people with dementia.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Dehumanization*
  • Dementia / nursing*
  • Dementia / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Participation*
  • Patient Rights / ethics*
  • Prejudice
  • Professional-Patient Relations / ethics*
  • Psychiatric Nursing / ethics
  • Social Values
  • Social Work, Psychiatric / ethics
  • Stereotyping