Autonomy Support of Nursing Home Residents With Dementia in Staff-Resident Interactions: Observations of Care

Linda J. M. Hoek, Hilde Verbeek*, Erica de Vries, Jolanda C. M. van Haastregt, Ramona Backhaus, Jan P. H. Hamers

*Corresponding author for this work

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Objectives: People with dementia living in nursing homes benefit from a social environment that fully supports their autonomy. Yet, it is unknown to what extent this is supported in daily practice. This study aimed to explore to which extent autonomy is supported within staff–resident interactions. Design: An exploratory, cross-sectional study. Setting and Participants: In total, interactions between 57 nursing home residents with dementia and staff from 9 different psychogeriatric wards in the Netherlands were observed. Methods: Structured observations were carried out to assess the support of resident autonomy within staff–resident interactions. Observations were performed during morning care and consisted of 4 main categories: getting up, physical care, physical appearance, and breakfast. For each morning care activity, the observers consecutively scored who initiated the care activity, how staff facilitated autonomy, how residents responded to staff, and how staff reacted to residents’ responses. Each resident was observed during 3 different mornings. In addition, qualitative field notes were taken to include environment and ambience. Results: In total, 1770 care interactions were observed. Results show that autonomy seemed to be supported by staff in 60% of the interactions. However, missed opportunities to engage residents in choice were frequently observed. These mainly seem to occur during interactions in which staff members took over tasks and seemed insensitive to residents’ needs and wishes. Differences between staff approach, working procedures, and physical environment were observed across nursing home locations. Conclusions and Implications: The findings of this study indicate that staff members support resident autonomy in more than one-half of the cases during care interactions. Nonetheless, improvements are needed to support resident autonomy. Staff should be encouraged to share and increase knowledge in dementia care to better address residents’ individual needs. Especially for residents with severe dementia, it seems important that staff develop skills to support their autonomy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1600-1608.e2
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of the American Medical Directors Association
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020


  • Nursing home
  • dementia
  • autonomy
  • observation
  • nursing staff
  • NEED
  • TIME

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