Observation as a research method for people with dementia

Find out about what Dementia Care Mapping is, and how to use observation in combination with other methods for measuring the experiences of people with dementia.

Although direct involvement works well to find out about the experiences of many carers and people with dementia, it can exclude people with dementia, who are less able to communicate. This means services miss out on understanding their experiences. That in turn means services lack important insights from a service improvement and development point of view.

Are observational methods the right ones for you?


  • if you want to identify areas in which outcomes are being achieved, and potential areas for development
  • if you want to gain insight into how individuals experience services and so, whether the service is supporting the needs of its users as it should, including being person-centred.
  • if you want to understand on-going situations or processes
  • if you want to gather data on individual behaviours or interactions between people
  • if you want to help staff reflect on how their service is working and support a continuous improvement cycle.
  • if you want to understand how a physical setting or environment works
  • as an alternative to other methods of data collection that are not appropriate or realistic.

Observation can be combined with other methods to find out about people's experience

  • interviews, 1-2-1 conversations,  group discussions and activities:
    • watching and responding to your participant’s body language during an interview could make all the difference to what you say next and the quality of information you receive in return
  • working with data: noticing and acting on patterns emerging in the early stages of your data collection could change the direction of your research focus.
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