Revealing gendered identity and agency in dementia

Boyle, Geraldine (2017). Revealing gendered identity and agency in dementia. Health and Social Care in the Community, 25(6) pp. 1787–1793.



As identity and agency are central to the well-being of people with dementia, this paper explores whether their dialogue conveys a gendered sense of identity and agency. The author discusses whether they demonstrate not just a subjective sense of being, but also an understanding of their relational selves. Findings are presented from a qualitative study in the North of England which examined the everyday decisions made by married couples when one partner had dementia. Ethnographic methods were used, including participant observation and interviews. Whilst dialogical analysis usually centres on the subjective self, it was also used to examine intersubjectivity. Comparisons are made between the dialogue of women and men in order to draw conclusions about the gendered nature of identity and agency. The study found that the women and men defined themselves according to their social and gender identities. The literature had suggested that agency might be a gendered concept and the study confirmed that men were somewhat individualistic and rational in their concerns, whereas women were more relational and even spiritual. Yet, women and men demonstrated emotional reflexivity. Since national and international health policy prioritises living well with dementia, more systematic attention should be given to the role of gender in influencing wellbeing in dementia. Health and social care staff should recognise and facilitate the gender identity and related social roles of people with dementia (e.g. parent, carer, worker) in order to enhance their quality of life.

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