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Views & Reviews Medical Classics

You’re Only Old Once!

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 18 May 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d3002
  1. Desmond O’Neill, consultant physician in geriatric and stroke medicine, Dublin
  1. doneill{at}

Dignity is a hard concept to master, especially with care of older people, the key demographic of adult medicine. Clinicians sometimes confound undignified practice and clinical settings with a loss of dignity in the person. Equally, the lay public may describe those with illnesses such as dementia as having “lost their dignity.”

Yet the intrinsic dignity of humans is inviolable, no matter the illness or disability: it is our unthinking attitudes and practice that combine to add indignities to our exchanges with patients. These include failure to provide adequately tailored environments, personalised approaches to care, and a true engagement that compensates for asymmetry of …

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