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A concept analysis of dignity for older adults


  • Cynthia S. Jacelon PhD RN CRRN-A,

  • Thomas W. Connelly PhD RN PNP,

  • Rana Brown BS RN,

  • Kathy Proulx PhD(c) RN,

  • Thuy Vo BS RN

Cynthia Jacelon, School of Nursing, 233 Arnold House, 715 N. Pleasant Street, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA 01003, USA.


Background.  Human dignity is an essential value of professional nursing education as well as a component of the American Nurses Association Code of Ethics. Nurses are exhorted to treat patients with dignity, and older adults want to be treated with dignity and die with dignity. Although dignity, particularly the dignity of older adults, is often discussed in the health care literature, its meaning is not always clear.

Aim.  The aim of this paper is to describe a concept analysis to develop a definition of dignity in older adults.

Methods.  Data were collected using a literature review and five focus groups composed of older adults. The literature provided data about professionals’ ideas of dignity and the focus groups provided qualitative data about the nature of dignity in older people. The literature review and focus groups were carried out concurrently, followed by synthesis of the findings.

Findings.  Dignity is an inherent characteristic of being human, it can be subjectively felt as an attribute of the self, and is made manifest through behaviour that demonstrates respect for self and others. Dignity must be learned, and an individual's dignity is affected by the treatment received from others.

Conclusions.  A behavioural definition of dignity was constructed and this could provide the theoretical basis for nurses to develop interventions that foster dignity for older people.