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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The relationship of perceived oral health, body image and social interactions among institutionalized elders Donnelly, Leeann Rachel


Objective: Social interactions among frail elders in long-term care facilities are limited, but to what extent body image and perceived oral health influence their social relations are poorly understood. A positive body image and the perception of adequate oral health are linked to increased social contacts, as well as improved health and well-being irrespective of age. However, as frailty increases it is unclear if appearance and oral health priorities remain stable. This study explored the relationship between oral health, body image and social interactions among a diverse group of frail elders. The research question underlying the study is “how are social interactions influenced by perceived oral health and body image in elderly people who live in long-term care facilities?” Methods: Open-ended interviews were conducted with a purposefully selected group of cognitively intact, institutionalized elderly men and women who exhibited varying degrees of frailty, social engagement and oral health conditions, and lived in one of eight long-term care facilities. The interviews were analyzed using a constant comparative technique, and a second interview with each participant checked the trustworthiness of the analysis. Results: Three major categories influenced the social interactions of the participants: 1) perceived oral health; 2) priorities and perceived access to care; 3) institutionalization and frailty. The major categories were influenced by the coping and adapting strategies, health status, dependency, institutional culture, investment, support, personality, socio-economic status, comfort, function, cleanliness and noticeability of oral conditions among the participants. Conclusions: Perceived oral health and body image among institutionalized frail elders were influenced by comfort, hygiene, cleanliness and noticeability of oral conditions. These findings were similar to reports of elders who reside in the community; however the extent to which social interactions were negatively impacted depended on multiple aspects of living in a care facility, degree of frailty, and priorities of care.

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