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Giving older people a say in care provision

Published 24 November 2011

The University of Brighton has been awarded £86,000 to develop ways of involving older people in decision making about care services.

Professor Marian Barnes, professor of social policy, and research fellow Dr Lizzie Ward, both from the School of Applied Social Science, will work with older people and social care practitioners to develop good practice in older people's participation. The project will look at good design and ethical practice, taking into account what older people say about well-being and their care needs.

The project, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), will apply findings from research on older people's well-being, undertaken over three years in Brighton and Hove. It was carried out by a team of older people, Age Concern and academic researchers and both Professor Barnes and Dr Ward were involved in the project

Interviews with people aged 67 to 97 were carried out by older peer researchers and were designed to enable older people to talk in their own terms about what well-being meant to them, and how it is produced.

Dr Ward explained: "Working on the research project with older co-researchers meant we needed to develop inclusive ways of working that were attentive to their different needs and circumstances. We realised that involving older people was not just about good design, but also about ethical practice. We think there is a connection between how we involve older people and what older people say about well-being."

The ESRC's 'Follow on Funding' project will involve statutory and voluntary sector practitioners working together with older people and researchers to apply this learning to practice. It will generate learning resources to be used in training and practice development.

The earlier research found that, whilst many older people were enjoying their lives, some said they found it hard to sustain a sense of well-being, either because of the loss of friends and family, health issues or loss of identity and structure that they enjoyed when working. Some found it hard to adjust to personal changes and to changes in the world around them.

Professor Barnes said: "Our research demonstrated not only the challenges that older people face to sustain their well-being, and the hard emotional and organisational labour that goes in to this, but also the resources that they draw on to 'be well' in old age and the different adaptations people face at different stages which may span a period of 30 years or more."

The project coincides with changes in social care which place more emphasis on older people having a say in the care they receive. The emphasis is on enabling older people to choose the support they receive, but choice is not always straightforward for older people.

Beatrice Gahagan, senior manager at Age Concern for Brighton, Hove and Portslade, explained: "Older people certainly don't want to just be told they have no option but to take what they are given, but the choices they face are not simply about what services to use. They need help to make difficult decisions about care and daily living and they need a good relationship with the person helping them make decisions. These decisions are not just about them as individuals, but about them in relation to other important people in their lives."

The current project, building on a body of research into older people's participation undertaken by Marian Barnes since the early 1990s, is expected to last 12 months and will produce learning resources to be used in training social care practitioners. Its findings will be presented at an event for practitioners and researchers in November 2012.

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Professor Marian Barnes

Professor Marian Barnes