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Open Access Research article

The influence of relationships on personhood in dementia care: a qualitative, hermeneutic study

Kari Lislerud Smebye1* and Marit Kirkevold23

Author Affiliations

1 Faculty of Health and Social Work Studies, Ostfold University College, 1757 Halden, Norway

2 Institute for Health and Society, Faculty of Medicine, University of Oslo, Blindern, P.B. 1103, 0318 Oslo, Norway

3 Institute of Public Health, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark

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BMC Nursing 2013, 12:29  doi:10.1186/1472-6955-12-29

Published: 20 December 2013



In dementia personhood can be understood as increasingly concealed rather than lost. The sense of being a person evolves in relationships with others. The aim of this study was to increase the understanding of the nature and quality of relationships between persons with dementia, family carers and professional caregivers and how these relationships influenced personhood in people with dementia.


This Norwegian study had a qualitative hermeneutical design based on ten cases. Each case consisted of a triad: the person with dementia, the family carer and the professional caregiver. Inclusion criteria for persons with dementia were (1) 67 years or older (2) diagnosed with dementia (3) Clinical Dementia Rating score 2 ie. moderate dementia (4) able to communicate verbally.

A semi-structured interview guide was used in interviews with family carers and professional caregivers. Field notes were written after participant observation of interactions between persons with dementia and professional caregivers during morning care or activities at a day care centre. Data were analysed in two steps: (1) inductive analysis with an interpretive approach and (2) deductive analysis, applying a theoretical framework for person-centred care.


Relationships that sustained personhood were close emotional bonds between family carers and persons with dementia and professional relationships between caregivers and persons with dementia.

Relationships that diminished personhood were task-centred relationships and reluctant helping relationships between family carers and persons with dementia and unprofessional relationships between caregivers and persons with dementia.


A broad range of relationships was identified. Understanding the complex nature and quality of these relationships added insight as to how they influenced the provision of care and the personhood of persons with dementia. Personhood was not only bestowed upon them by family carers and professional caregivers; they themselves were active agents who gained a sense of self by what they said and did.

Dementia; Relationships; Personhood; Person-centred care