Reasons for working with care homes

There are five key reasons for conducting research and working with care homes

1. Residents in care homes need good care

Residents in care homes are a vulnerable group, often lacking an effective voice due to dementia and other communication difficulties. There is therefore a risk that their health and social care rights are neglected.

2. Research provides evidence of what works best for the vulnerable population who live in care homes.

We have relatively little research evidence from care homes, particularly in the UK. Significant differences in the organisation and provision of care in the UK, compared with other European and non-European countries, limits the applicability of findings from studies outside the UK.

Care home residents are under-represented in research studies. Funders and researchers have in the past made the incorrect assumption that they have nothing to say or that it is too difficult to include them.

“We found that expectations and attitudes were still firmly of the view that people with dementia either have nothing to offer the research process or cannot be engaged in any meaningful way.”

Increasing the Voice, Choice and Control of Older People with High Support Needs, Gillian Granville et al, May 2011

This means that in a number of areas the evidence to support best practice is weak and we have limited evidence to guide ways of improving residents’ quality of life.

See the Cochrane Editorial Unit 'Care homes for older people' and Gordon et al (2012) Systematic mapping review of RCTs in care homes BMC Geriatrics.

3. Research can help raise standards

Research evidence can be instrumental in helping raise the standards of care in care homes. Providing the evidence needed to encourage changes in practice, and develop new ways of working.

For example, one study providing training and support for care home staff resulted in reduced antipsychotic medication use in residents with dementia by 50% without worsening any behavioral symptoms. This reduction was sustained for 12 months (Fossey et al. 2006).

4. Research can lead to improvements in quality of life or wellbeing of residents and care teams.

People in care homes and their families may want to be involved in research for a variety of reasons, which may include giving them a voice, sense of purpose, increased self-esteem and enjoyment.

It is important to ensure that there are opportunities for care home residents, their families and staff to participate in research studies. They may have different ideas about what quality of life or care mean to them.

5. Research guides best practice

Research provides an opportunity to develop the evidence base to guide best practice in care homes.

Collaboration with care homes can improve researchers’ understanding of how care is delivered and offer opportunities to work with residents who are at a particular stage in their illness.

“I wanted to get involved in research as I believe it is good for personal and service development. The staff became engaged, and were enthusiastic to help test the new ways of working being tested and the training provided has made a difference to care.”

Miranda Morgan, Care Home Manager, Surrey, March 2015

For Information

This toolkit focusses on research in the field of dementia, but the information is equally applicable to anyone working with care home residents. Working with residents with dementia can be incredibly rewarding, and thanks to researchers, information and the lessons learned about good practice in this field are being applied to other conditions and other settings of care.