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Active and non-active agents: residents’ agency in assisted living

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 August 2016

School of Health Sciences and Gerontology Research Center, University of Tampere, Finland.
School of Health Sciences and Gerontology Research Center, University of Tampere, Finland.
Address for correspondence: Jari Pirhonen, School of Health Sciences and Gerontology Research Center, 33014 University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland E-mail:


Culturally, institutional care has been seen to strip older people of their status as full adult members of society and turn them into ‘have-nots’ in terms of agency. The substantial emphasis in gerontology of measuring the activity and functional ability of the elderly has unintentionally fostered these stereotypes, as have traditional definitions of agency that emphasise individuals’ choices and capacities. The aim of this paper is to discover what kind of opportunities to feel agentic exist for people who have reduced functional abilities and therefore reside in assisted living. In this paper, agency is approached empirically from the viewpoint of Finnish sheltered housing residents. The data were gathered using participant observation and thematic interviews. This study suggests that even people with substantial declines in their functional abilities may feel more or less agentic depending on their functional and material surroundings and the support they receive from the staff, relatives and other residents. The perception that residents’ agency in assisted living cannot be reduced to measurable activity has methodological implications for gerontological research on agency. Care providers can utilise our findings in reasserting their residents’ quality of life.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2016 

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