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Presentation of the clothed self on the hospital ward: an ethnographic account of perceptual attention and implications for the personhood of people living with dementia


This study contributes to our understanding of the ‘medical gaze’ and its impact on the ways in which people living with dementia experience care during a hospital admission. Visual perception has a powerful effect on our emotional and moral reactions to others. One aspect of how we perceive and respond to others is through clothing, which relates strongly to class and social position. Our focus is on exploring the ways in which patient clothing may affect the perceptions and response of others, and self-perception and resulting behaviour. We draw on ethnographic research within acute hospital wards in five hospitals across England and Wales, examining the everyday organisation and delivery of care to people living with dementia. People living with dementia are a significant population who have poor experiences and outcomes of care within the acute setting. Our data suggest that the twin aspects of clothing and appearance—of self-perception, and of perception by others—may be especially important in the fast-paced context of an acute ward environment, where patients living with dementia may be struggling with the impacts of an additional acute medical condition within in a highly timetabled, regimented, and unfamiliar environment of the ward, and where staff perceptions of them may feed into clinical assessments of their condition and subsequent treatment and discharge pathways.

  • care of the elderly
  • medical humanities
  • philosophy of medicine/healthcare
  • dementia
  • sociology

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