A translational case study of empowerment into practice: a realist evaluation of a member-led dementia empowerment service

Tracey McConnell, Paul Best, Tristan Sturm, Mabel Stevenson, Michael Donnelly, Brian Taylor, Noleen McCorry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
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Involving people with dementia in decision-making is widely accepted as a means of empowering them to lead more independent lives and have more meaningful roles in shaping their care. However, there is a need to conduct rigorous evaluations of empowerment-driven services and policies in order to develop a deeper understanding about how to optimise successful implementation. This paper presents the results of an evaluation of Dementia Northern Ireland, an organisation initiated and led by people with dementia. We used a realist evaluation approach that comprised interviews with 15 people with dementia, three staff and two board members, ethnographic observations, along with documentary analysis to identify ‘what works, for whom, under what circumstances’. The analysis used realist logic to build up context-mechanism-outcome configurations. The Dementia Northern Ireland service model of empowerment revolved around the formation and maintenance of social groups of people with dementia. Facilitators, recruited and selected by people with dementia, supported six groups, consisting of one to four members with mild to moderate cognitive impairment. Facilitators helped expand empowerment groups, facilitate decision-making, awareness raising and consultation opportunities with group members. The ‘Empowerment Groups’ appeared to lead to the development of a shared social identity and a sense of collective strength as indicated by interview and observational data demonstrating an activist mentality among group members to challenge the stigma surrounding dementia. Group members also reported improved quality of life. Widespread implementation of the empowerment model has the potential to lead to reduced stigma and greater social inclusion, increased involvement of people with dementia as active co-producers of policy and service development, better services and support. This case study of Dementia Northern Ireland illustrates that there are boundaries and challenges to empowerment in terms of requiring additional support from staff without dementia. However, despite these challenges, empowerment-driven organisations can and should be committed to involving members in lead roles and key decision-making
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages23
JournalDementia: The International Journal of Social Research and Practice
Early online date23 Nov 2018
Publication statusPublished online - 23 Nov 2018


  • realist evaluation
  • empowerment
  • dememtia
  • member-led
  • translational
  • social power
  • facilitator
  • awareness raising
  • consultation
  • shared decision making


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