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Care at home for people with dementia: as in a total institution?

  • DOI:
  • Published online: 06 December 2006

This article examines three kinds of social relationship likely to be present when people with dementia are cared for at home by relatives or friends: custodial care, an intimate relationship, and home-life. Using Goffman's three defining aspects of custodial care – routinisation, surveillance and mortification of the self – the paper examines whether these characterised the care of people with dementia at home and, if so, whether they conflicted with the intimate relationship and with home-life. The study involved sustained observations and interviews with 20 people with dementia and their carers in and around London, and qualitative analysis of the data. It was found that all three aspects of custodial care were present although not fully realised, and that they led to difficulties, many of which were associated with the concurrent pursuit of an intimate relationship and home-life. In all cases, daily life was routinised partly to help accomplish care tasks but was found monotonous, while surveillance was usual but restrictive, and prevented both the carers and those with dementia from doing things that they wished to do. Those with dementia were distressed by the denial of their former identities, such as car-driver or home-maker, and by being treated like children. Both the carers and the people with dementia had various ways of balancing custodial care, their intimate relationships and home-life, such as combining routines with other activities, evading surveillance or carrying it out by indirect means, and there were many attempts to maintain some semblance of former identities.

Corresponding author
International Policy Institute, King's College London, Strand Bridge House, Strand, London WC2R 2LS. E-mail:
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Ageing & Society
  • ISSN: 0144-686X
  • EISSN: 1469-1779
  • URL: /core/journals/ageing-and-society
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