Stigma in the Cultural Context of Residential Settings for the Elderly

Different forms of community housing and residential long-term care now exist for older adults, including active adult communities, assisted living facilities, nursing homes, and continuing care retirement communities. These settings differ in at least two important ways: 1) they do not similarly intend to address the health and psychosocial needs of the residents who live there and 2) they are not similarly acceptable to prospective clientele. Anecdotal data indicate that the more services a setting offers, the more its residents are stigmatized. Unfortunately, this stigma may act to delay an individual’s willingness to seek and accept necessary services. Therefore, the aims of this project are to determine: 1) how older adults define stigmatizing traits in themselves and others in their everyday routines; 2) how older adults act and react to stigmatizing traits in themselves and others in their everyday routines; 3) how stigmatizing interpersonal and inter-group traits influence social dynamics and personal behaviors (such as masking, hiding, enabling) to avoid stigma; 4) how stigma is defined or operates differently in various levels of care and environmental configurations (such as those with single vs. graded levels of care in one campus); and 5) how the quality of settings and care might be improved with attention to the personal and social dynamics of stigma.

Principal Investigator: Sheryl I. Zimmerman, Ph.D.

Funding Source: National Institute on Aging, NIH (subcontract with University of Maryland Baltimore County)

Total Project Period: 07/07 – 06/30/12