ENRICHEnabling Research in Care Homes
“Are you coming back tomorrow?”
The benefits of Care Home research for care homes, residents and families.
Care Homes are extremely busy places, with many daily objectives for management, staff and residents, so why would a Care Home decide to participate in research?
The majority of research projects taking place in Care Homes aim to improve life for either current residents or future residents, in the best-case scenario, for both. Many Managers cite this as their reason for participation, but wanting to be sector leading and improving their links with the surrounding community are also often mentioned. Although there is likely to be a time burden of participating, the benefits for the Care Home, whether this be free training, increased knowledge of best practices for a certain aspect of care or increased quality of life for residents, appear to outweigh the cons.
When discussing research with Managers of Care Homes that may participate in research, you are quite often shot down with “we’re not interested in research”. As a researcher, this is frustrating to hear. Does this mean you’re not interested in making things better for your residents or for your future residents? Increasingly, studies are helping to make changes to the social care sector, through establishing best practices and providing recommendations for care. Anecdotally, Managers have said that initially having researchers in the home can cause them a bit of extra work, until names are learned and all the relevant paperwork is signed. However, once this stage has passed, the researchers become “part of the furniture”, fitting into the daily routines of the Care Home. Although of course, there are always cases where the management team have found the burden of the research to be too much. Being honest and upfront about the time and effort that management teams, staff and residents are being asked to commit before beginning a research project can help to alleviate this.
As a resident of a Care Home, participating in research usually means a person disrupting your daily life, but that by disrupting it, you’ll get to spend time with a researcher on a one-to-one basis and all they want to know about is you! Although this time is for the benefit of research, it must also be beneficial for the person you are talking with. Many people enjoy the fact that they’re getting someone’s full attention for a significant period of time, in a setting where staff teams are frequently dashing from task to task. A much less important aim, but one that we so often experience, is that it’s beneficial for us ourselves as researchers. The stories that people tell you, ranging from wartime experiences to tales from their childhood, to informing you that they used to be the matron of the school that has now become the Care Home where they live, are uplifting and inspiring. Speaking to researchers can give residents something meaningful to engage in, alongside their daily activities and enrichment programmes, and knowing that they are making a valued contribution can be pleasing. For example, many people report feeling very pleased to have participated in research, although you do get the occasional “what can little old me do to help?”.
Additionally, for the family members of people living in Care Homes, taking part in research can be a way to express their feelings about themselves, their relative and the Care Home. The most frequent response I’ve received to asking a family member whether they’d like to participate is “anything to help”. Generally, family members are willing to share their experiences with the hope of making things better for the residents of the future, a selfless task and one that is very much appreciated by research teams in Care Homes.
For staff, participating in research can be a way of reflecting on their knowledge and practices, to consider how they can make improvements and allows a chance to demonstrate their skills. Furthermore, it may lead to reductions in their workload. For example, a recent study showed that residents participating in everyday activities, such as setting the table, making coffee, or watering the plants, promotes quality of life. Findings like these help to shape best care practices and staff report feeling proud to have participated in research that will lead to improvements not just for their own residents, but also for people living in Care Homes all over the country.
In summary, it is a privilege to conduct research in Care Homes and be welcomed into people’s lives. Although, as with anything, there are cons to participating in research, current evidence suggests that thankfully the benefits are outweighing the cons for residents, staff and families, who are having meaningful research experiences. As a researcher, you know you’re doing something right when as you leave in the evening, someone asks “are you coming back tomorrow?”