Family involvement in dementia special care units in nursing homes: A qualitative care ethical study into family experiences

N Hovenga, E Landeweer, F Vinckers, C Leget, S Zuidema

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Aim: To explore the moral dimension of family experiences with being involved in the care of their loved one with dementia in the nursing home, using the care ethical framework of Tronto. Design: This qualitative study used a care ethical approach in which empirical data and care ethical theory were dialectically related and mutually informing. Methods: Fifteen close family members of nursing home residents with dementia were interviewed between February 2020 and October 2020. Forty-two interviews were conducted, based on a semi-structured open-ended design. A thematic narrative approach combined with the five phases of care as defined by Tronto was used to analyse the empirical data. Subsequently, Tronto's identified ethical qualities were used to identify the moral dimension of these empirical findings. Results: We found that in the care process (1) family can find it difficult to recognize their loved one's care needs; (2) both family and staff are reluctant to discuss the allocation of responsibilities with each other; (3) family sometimes feels insecure when it comes to connecting with their loved one; (4) family is often reluctant to provide feedback to staff when they are critical about the care that has been given; and (5) family is generally mild in judging staff, due to staff shortages. The care ethical interpretation of these findings showed that the moral qualities of attentiveness, responsibility, competence, responsiveness, and solidarity are under pressure to a certain extent. Conclusion: Family experiences moral distress during the care process, which hinders family involvement in nursing homes for people with dementia. Impact: Nursing home staff can look for and pilot strategies focused on supporting families to act more in accordance with the moral qualities that are under pressure. This can improve family involvement in practice. Patient or Public Contribution: No Patient/Public Contribution. Implications for Practice/Policy: Nursing home staff paying more attention to families' emotional struggles related to the decline of their loved one, could help families to be more attentive to noticing true care needs of the resident. Both family and nursing home staff should take more often initiatives to evaluate the division of care responsibilities with each other. Nursing home staff should help family connect with their loved one during their visits if they experience difficulties in doing so. Nursing home staff taking more often initiatives to contact family and ask them how they perceive the care for their loved one, can positively affect the responsiveness of both family and staff. It would be helpful if nursing home management could ensure the presence of sufficient and qualified staff so that the first four phases of the care process are not hindered by the lack of staff.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Advanced Nursing
Early online date17 Jul 2023
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jul 2023


  • Care ethics
  • Dementia
  • Dementia special care units
  • Families
  • Family involvement
  • Moral dimension
  • Moral qualities
  • Nursing home
  • moral dimension
  • care ethics
  • nursing home
  • families
  • family involvement
  • moral qualities
  • dementia
  • dementia special care units

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