Shame, hope, intimacy and growth: Dementia distress and growth in families from the perspective of senior aged care professionals

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Minimal research explores the impact of dementia and a dementia diagnosis on families from the unique vantage of senior health professionals. The participants of this study, eight senior aged care professionals, provided unique interpretative insights into family dynamics and sense-making on the journey with dementia, and their own role in that journey. Both positive and negative perspectives were sought. Data from semi-structured interviews were analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA). One superordinate theme, Dementia naiveté; redefined intimacy, overarched Embarrassed shame; Maintaining hope; Redefining a model of intimacy; and Redefined relational intimacy and growth. Within these themes, the participants shed light on hurtful embarrassment and shame experienced by families associated with the diagnostic label given to a loved one. This label was perceived to either trigger separation, hurt and immobility through ignorance, or precipitate a frenzy of naive yet hopeful energy for seeking that elusive cure. The participants saw their role as one of enacting a new way of connecting what was with what could be. Thus, they modelled advocacy, integral care and relational intimacy. Validation came in witnessing a redefining of intimacy in many families who were able to embrace that holistic and empathic approach to the shifting presentation of dementia. Psychological well-being was observed to occur when families embraced growthful domains, e.g. acceptance, hope, relational closeness and altruistic concern for other families. Implications for future care models are discussed.

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