BACKGROUND: Dignity has become a central concern in UK health policy in relation to older and vulnerable people. The empirical and theoretical literature relating to dignity is extensive and as likely to confound and confuse as to clarify the meaning of dignity for nurses in practice. The aim of this paper is critically to examine the literature and to address the following questions: What does dignity mean? What promotes and diminishes dignity? And how might dignity be operationalised in the care of older people?This paper critically reviews the theoretical and empirical literature relating to dignity and clarifies the meaning and implications of dignity in relation to the care of older people. If nurses are to provide dignified care clarification is an essential first step. METHODS: This is a review article, critically examining papers reporting theoretical perspectives and empirical studies relating to dignity. The following databases were searched: Assia, BHI, CINAHL, Social Services Abstracts, IBSS, Web of Knowledge Social Sciences Citation Index and Arts & Humanities Citation Index and location of books a chapters in philosophy literature. An analytical approach was adopted to the publications reviewed, focusing on the objectives of the review. RESULTS AND DISCUSSION: We review a range of theoretical and empirical accounts of dignity and identify key dignity promoting factors evident in the literature, including staff attitudes and behaviour; environment; culture of care; and the performance of specific care activities. Although there is scope to learn more about cultural aspects of dignity we know a good deal about dignity in care in general terms. CONCLUSION: We argue that what is required is to provide sufficient support and education to help nurses understand dignity and adequate resources to operationalise dignity in their everyday practice. Using the themes identified from our review we offer proposals for the direction of future research
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