Managing Shame: A Grounded Theory of How Stigma Manifests in Families Living With Dementia

J Am Psychiatr Nurses Assoc. 2020 Mar/Apr;26(2):181-188. doi: 10.1177/1078390319832965. Epub 2019 Mar 13.


BACKGROUND: Alzheimer's disease and related dementias are irreversible, progressive brain disorders that slowly destroy memory, language, problem solving, and cognition. In the United States, dementia is the fifth leading cause of death for people age 65 years and older. Early diagnosis could have important benefits stigma related to dementia remains a significant impediment to diagnosis, treatment, and accessing services. While a growing body of research documents the existence and negative outcomes of stigma, less is known about how dementia-related stigma produces ill effects. AIMS: The purpose of this study was to use qualitative methods to explore how stigma manifests within families from the perspective of family caregivers of people with dementia. METHOD: Using a grounded theory approach, we interviewed 13 family caregivers of people with dementia. RESULTS: Shame emerged as the central theme experienced by family caregivers of people with dementia. Attempting to manage shame, produced three categories of responses: (1) silencing and not calling attention to the symptoms, (2) concealing the diagnosis, and (3) shunning and avoiding contact. CONCLUSIONS: Shame may be an underlying mechanism by which stigma is enacted and perpetuated, resulting in caregivers' isolation and delay in access to diagnostic and supportive services. Efforts to dispel the misconception that dementia is a shameful disease may be one way to diminish stigma.

Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease; dementia; family caregivers; stigma.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Caregivers / psychology*
  • Dementia / psychology*
  • Female
  • Grounded Theory
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Qualitative Research
  • Shame*
  • Social Stigma*
  • United States