How family members manage risk around functional decline: The autonomy management process in households facing dementia

Brandon Berry, Ester Carolina Apesoa-Varano, Yarin Gomez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Most dementia research investigates the social context of declining ability through studies of decision-making around medical treatment and end-of-life care. This study seeks to fill an important gap in research about how family members manage the risks of functional decline at home. Drawing on three waves of in-depth interviewing in 2012-2014, it investigates how family members in US households manage decline in an affected individual's natural range of daily activities over time. The findings show that early on in the study period affected individuals were perceived to have awareness of their decline and routinely drew on family members for support. Support transformed when family members detected that the individual's deficit awareness had diminished, creating a corresponding increase in risk of self-harm around everyday activities. With a loss of confidence in the individual's ability to regulate his or her own activities to avoid these risks, family members employed unilateral practices to manage the individual's autonomy around his or her activity involvements. These practices typically involved various deceits and ruses to discourage elders from engaging in activities perceived as potentially dangerous. The study concludes by discussing the implications that the social context of interpretive work around awareness and risk plays an important role in how families perceive an elder's functional ability and manage his or her activity involvements.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)107-114
Number of pages8
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
StatePublished - Apr 1 2015


  • Alzheimer's/dementia
  • Autonomy
  • Awareness
  • Functional decline
  • Risk
  • Symptom management
  • US

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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