To explore how Martha Nussbaum's approach to human capabilities can apply to dignity in the lives of people with advanced dementia living in nursing homes.
Challenges experienced when supporting people with advanced dementia who express problematic behaviours include understanding their needs and ensuring a dignified life for them.
Data were gathered using an ethnographic approach based on participatory observation. Nussbaum's capability approach was then used as a framework for the analysis. Four women diagnosed with advanced dementia who also expressed problematic behaviours were recruited from a nursing home in Northern Sweden. The data collection was performed during 2015.
Individuals with advanced dementia had difficulties in participating in the planning of their lives and achieving the human capability of practical reasoning. They were also at risk of being placed outside the social group, thus hindering them from attaining the human capability of affiliation. A dignified life for individuals with advanced dementia requires nursing staff to be present and to provide adapted support to ensure that the individual can actually pursue human capabilities.
Creating opportunities for the human capabilities of practical reasoning and affiliation is essential as they permeate all other human capabilities. For these individuals, it was crucial not only to create opportunities for human capabilities but also to attend to their expressions and needs and to guide and steer them towards a dignified life.
The normative structure of the capability approach described by Nussbaum can ensure that nursing staffs move beyond fulfilling patients' basic needs to consider other capabilities vital for a dignified life.