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Ageing at Home in a Situation of Dependency: Attachment to the Place of Residence and (Dis)continuity of Identity in Old Age

Christophe Humbert

Research Framework: The research focuses on interventions related to assistance and care, by relatives and professionals, necessary to support the autonomy at home of dependent elderly people in France (Alsace).

Objectives: This article examines the ambiguity of attachment to the home, which should be understood in the double sense of “what we value” and “what holds us”, in some “borderline” home care situations. The analysis focuses on the correlation between this ambiguity and the emergence of a discontinued feeling of identity.

Methodology: This research involved comprehensive interviews with dependent older adults with neurocognitive disorders, care professionals and family caregivers (N=41), as well as field notes from participating observations during home visits by professional caregivers.

Results: Older adults who are attached with an “uncertain identity” and “insecure” way to their home are confined to it most of the time because of combined vulnerabilities: psychological, physical, economic and (especially) relational, notably because of the absence of close relatives mobilized in the daily assistance and care.

Conclusions: Some people in situations of dependence lack meaningful interpersonal attachments, that would provide them with opportunities for engaging and supporting their reflexiveness in the maintaining of their relationship with home. Its status then becomes ambiguous, sometimes to the point of undermining its function as a protective “home” and allowing the projection of the inhabitant’s identity.

Contribution: Mobilizing mainly the sociology of attachments, this article aims to bring an innovative approach to this field, while contributing in an original way to the analyses relating to home in situations of dependence.