Risk communication in dementia care: Professional perspectives on consequences, likelihood, words and numbers

Mabel Stevenson, Brian Taylor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)
123 Downloads (Pure)


Communicating effectively about risk is fundamental to professionals addressing critical issues with clients and families, and to informed decision making. Using a grounded theory approach, this qualitative study explored how risk is conceptualised and communicated in dementia care. Data was gathered across five focus groups (thirty-five health and social care professionals) covering concepts and perspectives on verbal, numeric and visual forms of communicating risk. Risks were primarily conceptualised as consequences (positive and negative) rather than as likelihood, and related to a wide range of domains. Perceptions were influenced by sociocultural factors including risk-assessment mechanisms and wider discourse relating to positive risk-taking. The language of probability was used in a non-quantified, subjective manner. While professionals routinely received quantitative information, they did not typically communicate using numeric expressions. Verbal expressions of likelihood were widely preferred to numeric. When risks were presented in numeric formats, frequency presentation was seen as more comprehensible than percentages. Several participants saw potential in visual forms of risk communication. Bar charts were generally favoured over icon arrays as more easily understood. Good practice examples for risk communication were identified. This study provides pointers towards further research to support optimal risk communication in the complex domain of community care.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1940-1958
Number of pages19
JournalThe British Journal of Social Work
Issue number7
Early online date9 Jan 2017
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 31 Oct 2017


  • Assessment
  • risk
  • communication
  • decision making
  • dementia care.


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