Everyday material engagement: Supporting self and personhood in people with Alzheimer’s disease

Document Type


Publication Date



Health Sciences

Publication Title

Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences


Threats to the self and personhood of people with ADRD include the disturbing images of Alzheimer’s disease as the death before death, culturally based assumption that status as a full human being is dependent upon cognition and memory, and a decrease in personal possessions with a move to a 24-h care setting. This paper presents the findings of an ethnographic study of self and personhood in Alzheimer’s disease in an American long-term care facility. It argues that the lifeworld in which the self and personhood of individuals with ADRD is actualized is mediated and negotiated through engagement with everyday objects. Using a framework that integrates Material Engagement Theory with Bourdieu’s Practice Theory, it is argued that the study of the material engagement of individuals with ADRD can lead to a better understanding of the lives of individuals with ADRD by focusing on the material and non-discursive aspects of objects. Findings contribute to the understanding of current practice issues in dementia care while shifting the focus away from exclusively biomedical understanding. Paradoxically, people with ADRD, due to their cognitive impairment, may provide us with a more fundamental way to understand the importance of objects in the lives of humans in general.

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