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Short Title

Goffman and the Infantilization of Elderly Persons

Abstract

Infantilization is a behavioral pattern in which a person of authority interacts with, responds to, or treats an elderly person in a child-like manner. This paper uses Erving Goffman’s theories as a framework from which to analyze the reasons for and the results of infantilization of elderly residents in partial and total institutions (i.e., adult day care centers and nursing homes). First, we review the literature on infantilization. Next, we offer a brief summary of Goffman’s work and delineate his major theoretical assumptions. Then, we analyze the process of infantilization through Goffman’s theories. Finally, we offer suggestions for advancing research using Goffman’s premises. This paper asks whether infantilization can produce symptoms of dementia in institutionalized elders. If Goffman is correct, the answer may be yes. Six researchable propositions are offered to test Goffman’s theoretical framework.

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