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Bodywork in dementia care: recognising the commonalities of selfhood to facilitate respectful care in institutional settings

  • FIONA KELLY (a1)

This paper draws on two data sources (Kelly's ethnographic study and a British Broadcasting Corporation television programme) to explore the practice of bodywork in the care of frail people with dementia in institutional settings. It explores the complexity of engaging in bodywork, particularly work that is distasteful to the care-worker, and shows how non-recognition of the selfhood of the person with dementia can result in practices that are demeaning and potentially abusive to those in receipt of such work. In contrast to a person-centred approach that urges practitioners to acknowledge people with dementia as unique individuals, with unique needs, wishes, abilities and desires, this paper argues for the use of Sabat's Selfs 1–3 construct to look for commonalities of selfhood, enabling care workers to recognise aspects of themselves in their patients as they carry out care, thereby facilitating care that empathically respects their patients' dignity and potential for vulnerability. Thus, it aims to advance theory and improve practice by arguing for the necessity of putting selfhood at the forefront of bodywork in order to facilitate respectful care that dignifies rather than objectifies the person.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Fiona Kelly, School of Applied Social Science, University of Stirling, Stirling FK9 4LA, UK. E-mail:
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Ageing & Society
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