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Alterity, Dementia and the Good Life in Denmark

Elders dancing at an old age home in Denmark. Photo: Mathias Schmidt

Lone Grøn:  Alterity, Dementia and the Good Life in Denmark

In contemporary Denmark growing old is strongly associated with decreasing physical and mental ability and increasing need of institutional care - to the extent that you will not be seen as old, if you are able to uphold an active life. The general discourse of healthy and active aging – as well as major transformations of institutional care toward reablement and self care – can lead to a double vulnerability for those who do find themselves - at various chronological ages - thrown into ‘the institutional aging process’: Living on with increasingly frail bodies and minds and doing this within a general ethos of dismissal of old age, sickness and death. 

Specifically the project will explore lives with dementia from theoretical perspectives that take alterity as a characteristic of a shared human condition (Waldenfels, Levinas) in order to avoid too harsh a demarcation between those who live with dementia and those who do not. The study builds on 10 years of fieldwork in institutional spaces concerned with chronic diseases and old age and explores what the good life might amount to among residents at a Danish dementia ward, i.e. in situations characterized by radical uncertainties stemming from deep transformations of cognitive abilities, of senses of self and others, of home spaces and of temporalities of past, present and future.