An ethnography study exploring factors that influence social isolation in care home residents living with dementia and hearing loss

Nisha Dhanda*, Helen Pryce

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: Hearing loss and dementia are highly prevalent conditions amongst older adults living in residential care. The consequences of living with these conditions may include social withdrawal and reduced communication opportunities. We sought to examine patterns of communication and interaction in residential care and explore resident, staff, and relative perspectives within two care homes located in Birmingham, UK. This enabled an understanding of how communication environments contributed to social isolation.

METHODS: This work used ethnography methodology to explore mechanisms that created and maintained social isolation in older adults living with dementia and hearing loss. A planning and engagement phase took place in four care homes. This was followed by an environmental audit, observations, and interviews. Data generated were analysed using Grounded Theory methods.

RESULTS: There were 33 participants (16 residents, 11 care staff, and six relatives) who took part in the observations and interviews. Residents experienced social isolation through lack of meaningful conversation with others and being misunderstood. Additionally, observations of residents' interactions informed the overall findings. A Grounded Theory model was employed to explain the core phenomenon of social isolation. The main contributors were internal and external barriers to communication, and reduced opportunities for meaningful conversation.

CONCLUSIONS: There is a wide range of social isolation that care home residents experience. This was not always associated with the severity of hearing loss but rather communication ability. Simple interventions such as staff dining with residents and focussing on improving communication could reduce social isolation within residential care settings.

Original languageEnglish
Article number593
JournalBMC Geriatrics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 25 Sept 2023

Bibliographical note

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  • Aged
  • Anthropology, Cultural
  • Communication
  • Dementia/diagnosis
  • Hearing Loss/diagnosis
  • Humans
  • Social Isolation
  • Ethnography
  • Hearing
  • Social isolation
  • Dementia


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