Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Work


The United States population is aging rapidly and with it a tremendous rise in the number of people with dementia. In the future, as now, physicians and other health care professionals will likely provide the majority of health care for older people and those with dementia. The non-geriatric trained workforce must have the attitudes, knowledge and skills needed to provide high quality care for this aging and increasingly cognitively impaired population. There is evidence that prevailing stigma regarding older adults can be modified with experiential opportunities early in students' career. Few of these programs are aimed at persons with dementia. The purpose of this study was to obtain an understanding of the impact of an experiential learning and mentorship program with persons diagnosed with early stage dementia on first year medical students. This study is a qualitative content analysis of medical students' narrative reflections following their interaction and activity with a person with dementia over the course of an academic year. The study utilizes the theoretical frameworks of Gordon W. Allport's (1954) contact hypothesis, theories of personhood, and the social constructionist view of the self within an interpretivist/constructivist paradigm. This study gives insights about what the students experienced over the course of the year; that is, (a) seeing the person with dementia as a mentor: (b) expressing a range of feelings regarding the relationship from discomfort to enjoyment, friendship and increasing comfort over time: (c) demonstrating perceptions of mood and development of empathy toward the person with dementia; (d) recognizing and learning the various symptoms manifested in persons with dementia; (e) developing an awareness of their preconceptions and changing attitudes, along with their own emotional response to the experience; and (f) understanding the family caregivers' experience through interaction. It was ultimately concluded that this experiential program served to influence first-year medical students' understanding of persons with dementia, providing them with a more holistic view of the person and family and challenging and altering students' preconceptions of dementia and what it is like to live with it. Implications for social workers are discussed along with the study limitations and next steps for future research.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Included in

Social Work Commons