13 September 2013

Out of sight, out of mind?

Care home residents are often not included in studies about older people’s health, according to research published today in Age and Ageing, the scientific journal of the British Geriatrics Society.

Nearly 400,000 older people live in care homes in the UK, and more than half of residents are aged over 85. Their health and social care needs are complex. All have some disability, many have dementia, and collectively they have high rates of both necessary and avoidable hospital admissions.

Despite this, there are few data available on their health and well-being. Researchers from the University of York found that the majority of epidemiological studies relating to older people's health either exclude care home residents at the outset or censor their data by not following community dwelling participants into institutions. Furthermore, when information from people in care homes is available, it has often been collected through a proxy.

Barbara Hanratty of the University of York and Hull York Medical School said:

The paucity of data available from participants in care homes is understandable, when the challenges to conducting research are considered. Many residents have poor mental and physical health; levels of cognitive impairment and dementia are high.
"However, the absence of systematic data collection compromises our ability to monitor the outcome of health care in this population.  Funders of research should take into account the extra resources that are needed to include care home residents in surveys and researchers may wish to look critically at the current use of proxy informants."

Dr Eileen Burns, British Geriatrics Society Care Home Lead, said:

Our own research has shown that care home residents don’t receive adequate access to health care. We fully support the call of this study to prioritise data collection on the health of older care home residents. Better data could answer important questions about the way NHS services are delivered to care homes, the impact of different models of care on patients' health and which services are most needed by residents."