Dignity in long-term care: An application of Nordenfelt's work

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The concept of dignity is recognised as a fundamental right in many countries. It is embedded into law, human rights legislation and is often visible in organisations’ philosophy of care, particularly in aged care. Yet, many authors describe difficulties in defining dignity and how it can be preserved for people living in long term care.


In this article, Nordenfelt’s ‘four notions of dignity’ are considered, drawing on research literature addressing the different perspectives of those who receive, observe or deliver care in the context of the long-term care environment.


A review of the literature was undertaken using the terms ‘nursing homes’, ‘residential care’ or ‘long-term care’. The terms were combined and the term ‘human dignity’ was added. A total of 29 articles met the inclusion criteria from the United Kingdom (14), United States (2), Australia (1), Sweden (3), Hong Kong (2), Norway (3), Nordic (1), Taiwan (1), Netherlands (1).

Ethical Considerations:

Every effort has been made to ensure an unbiased search of the literature with the intention of an accurate interpretation of findings.


The four notions of dignity outlined by Nordenfelt provide a comprehensive description of the concept of dignity which can be linked to the experiences of people living in long-term care today and provide a useful means of contextualising the experiences of older people, their families and significant others and also of staff in long-term care facilities. Of particular interest are the similarities of perspectives of dignity between these groups. The preservation of dignity implies that dignity is a quality inherent in us all. This links directly to the exploration and conclusions drawn from the literature review. Conversely, promoting dignity implies that dignity is something that can be influenced by others and external factors. Hence, there are a number of implications for practice.


We suggest that two of Nordenfelt’s notions, ‘dignity of identity’ and ‘dignity of Menschenwüde’, are a common thread for residents, family members and staff when conceptualising dignity within long-term care environments.

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