Understanding research

There are many questions about health, illness, the approaches of care and the effects of treatment for which there are no clear answers.

The aim of research is to find better ways of supporting residents, keeping them healthy as long as possible, and improving their quality of life.

Research in care homes helps:

  • understand which treatments or care method works best and when and how they should be applied
  • improve the quality of life for people living with a long-term illness
  • diagnose diseases or other problems
  • prevent diseases or at least reduce the number of people who get them
  • reduce the burden of illness and disabilities for individuals and families
  • identify gaps in knowledge related to specific treatments or conditions
  • collect people’s views on how care should be provided and prioritise that research
  • improve the quality of care and service provided to them; identify problems related to the treatment or service they are offered
  • support family members and carers by sharing helpful information and by understanding the wider effect of dementia on family and friends.
  • encourage close working between residents, staff and relatives, to everyone’s benefit.

When care home residents volunteer to take part in research studies often their reasons are personal. However the most common is the wish to contribute to improving services for themselves and / or those who come after them.


There are different types of research but at the centre of all studies should be an ethos of respect, dignity and confidentiality.

Qualitative and quantitative studies

In simple terms there are two approaches to carrying out research; 'qualitative research’ which uses in-depth interviews, focus groups or questionnaires to collect, analyse and interpret data on what people do and say, and ‘quantitative research’ which uses statistical methods to count and measure outcomes from a study. They often get used together in large studies.

Observational studies

Observational studies are a different form of research. In observational studies researchers investigate what happens to groups of people. They may also include interviews with care home residents, their families or staff members (with their consent, of course), or the collection of information such as blood pressure, weight, severity of illness, medicines taken.

Trials/intervention studies

There are different types of research to get involved in. Trials can test whether certain therapies or activities have an effect or are safe to use, or test drug’s effectiveness in treating a disease. These trials are sometimes called ‘intervention studies’. This research aims to test how beneficial treatments or therapies might be for people.

  • Treatments are tested on participants in strictly controlled ways to ensure safety and clear results.
  • Most studies need many participants because they aim to find out what treatments are likely to be most helpful for the largest number of people.


Research studies often recruit many people as participants, but they have to fit the eligibility criteria in the research design of the study.

These criteria may include the type of disease, history, age, gender, ethnicity, and so on, and may need to be very specific and can sometimes seem quite narrow. This is necessary because clinical research measures changes that are very precise and have to be carefully controlled so that the research results are as clear and informative as possible. So even though you may be interested in taking part in a study, if your details do not fit these narrow criteria you would not be eligible to take part. For example, a study may be seeking men or may be seeking people who have never been smokers.

It is important to note that anyone choosing to join a study can withdraw at any time.

The 'Understanding Clinical Trials' leaflet’ provides more information on eligibility criteria.


If you would like more information about taking part in research in a study take a look at the NIHR leaflets, 'Understanding Clinical Trials' and 'Clinical Trials: What they are and what they are not'. Information on joining all types of research can be found at NHS Choices.