Re-imagining care transitions for people with dementia and complex support needs in residential aged care: Using co-designed sensory objects and a focused ethnography to recognise micro transitions

Publication Name

Ageing and Society


The concept of transition is often used in health and lifecourse research to understand a significant movement from one state or place to another. While people with dementia experience more major transitions than their peers, they are often excluded from transitional care research. This study set out to develop meaningful transitional supports for people with dementia and complex support needs who were undertaking a significant planned geographical transition from their current residential aged care facility to a new purpose-built facility. Using the language of complex support needs acknowledges that participants in this study have a breadth and depth of need, including cognitive, physical, psycho-social and communication impairments and social and cultural disadvantage associated with ageing, institutionalisation and social isolation. To support their move, Participatory Action Research was used to support the co-creation of transitional objects (personalised scarves and blankets) with 15 people with dementia, their families and care staff. Whilst these objects were useful in supporting transition, it was not in the way we imagined. Whilst our initial focus had been on supporting a significant geographical transition, rather it was four types of micro transitions in which the transitional objects were used: small physical transitions (from one place to another); social transitions (entering or exiting personal interactions); activity transitions (moving between activities); and time travel (moving between different times). Reimagining transitions from the perspective of people with dementia and complex support needs involves the recognition of the need for supports for micro as well as macro transitions. Personalised objects to support these everyday micro transitions have the potential to make the lives of people with dementia and complex support needs more manageable, meaningful and comprehensible. Reimagining transitions in dementia in this way helps us reimagine dementia itself, as a constantly fluid, dynamic and responsive series of moments which also has implications for the re-imagination of dementia care.

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