Stress as experienced by people with dementia: an interpretative phenomenological analysis

Barbara K. Sharp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Health and social care research on stress in dementia has predominantly considered the stress experienced by family and professional carers. Focus on the person with dementia has frequently laid emphasis on the impact of stress-related behaviour on others and how such behaviour might be ‘managed’. This paper describes a qualitative study which gives voice to people with dementia on the subject of stress and responds to the need for a better understanding of stress as it is experienced by people with dementia themselves. An interpretative phenomenological analysis was conducted on data collected from a purposive sample of people diagnosed with varying types of dementia from across Scotland. Discussions across five focus groups consisting of 21 participants with dementia in total generated data which was audio and video recorded, and analysed thematically. Five key themes emerged, described in the participants’ own words, which were: (1) ‘Something’s torn, your life’s torn’; (2) ‘Families can bring stress’; (3) ‘It’s the stress of living with dementia’; (4) ‘A whole new set of rules’; and (5) ‘It’s our lives and we’ll get it under control ourselves’. These themes reflect experiences of loss, challenges to one’s sense of self, relationship dynamics, living with the symptoms of dementia, learning to do things differently and establishing coping mechanisms that provide control. Study participants illustrated individual potential for adapting and coping with some of the most stressful aspects of living with dementia, challenging assumptions of inevitable fixed decline and progressive vulnerability to stress. Participants describe a process of recovery in their perceptions of self-worth, purpose and value in life following diagnosis.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1427-1445
Number of pages19
Issue number4
Early online date9 Jun 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2019


  • Dementia
  • Stress
  • Coping
  • Relationships
  • Recovery
  • Phenomenology


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