Overview of selected research: What dignity means

Despite being widely used and discussed, dignity has seemed a difficult term to pin down. It is often linked with respect from others and with privacy, autonomy and control, with self-respect and with a sense of who you are. Threats to dignity have been identified with a very wide range of issues: how you are addressed having to sell your house to pay for long-term care; the kind of care patients receive at the end of life; or inadequate help to clean or maintain your home. And the impact of factors linked to disadvantage and discrimination of all kinds further complicate the picture.

The provisional meaning of dignity used for this guide is based on a standard dictionary definition:

A state, quality or manner worthy of esteem or respect; and (by extension) self-respect. Dignity in care, therefore, means the kind of care, in any setting, which supports and promotes, and does not undermine, a person’s self-respect regardless of any difference. Or, as one person receiving care put it more briefly, 'Being treated like I was somebody'

Policy Research Institute on Ageing and Ethnicity/Help the Aged, 2001