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The épreuve of ageing with Alzheimer's disease


The concept of épreuve, literally translated as ‘challenge’, was developed by the French sociologist Danilo Martuccelli, who was inspired by Sartre's existential philosophy, phenomenological sociology and its concern for analysing modern experiences, and Charles Wright Mills’ conviction that it is necessary to relate personal problems to the social structures that generate or amplify them. The concept has been used in the sociology of ageing in France to characterise the épreuve of ageing and four domains of épreuve have been identified: activities, identity, autonomy and relationship to the world. This paper applies this template to a corpus of 27 interviews with people at mild to moderate stages of Alzheimer's disease, in order to characterise the épreuve of ageing with the disease. The épreuve of ageing during the earlier stages of the disease is similar to the experience of people who age without a cognitive disorder. However, as the disease progresses the analysis reveals that it tends to exacerbate issues: identity seems especially threatened, simultaneously raising the question of self-presentation and self-definition; although most interviewees strive to retain autonomy, a few delegate it to a close confidante with whom they build a relationship of strong dependence; and weakened communication accentuates the feeling that the world is foreign and strange.

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Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Vincent Caradec, Department of Sociology, Lille University, Domaine universitaire Pont-de-Bois, BP 60149, 59653 Villeneuve d'Ascq Cedex, France E-mail:
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