Role of research in aged care facilities
There is growing recognition by the aged care sector, clinicians, researchers and policy makers of the need to build and translate the evidence base in the care of older people. There is also an increasing recognition that residents of aged care facilities and older people living at home receiving aged care services can have particular palliative care needs as well as increasing care needs as they come to the end-of-life.
Research has an important role in aged care services to ensure that residents and clients receive care and treatment according to the best available evidence. Research can also address family issues and considerations around service delivery and care models as well as inform Government policy. In a period of rapid review and reform, research has an essential role to play in both shaping and assessing the impacts of change. As part of its review processes the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety commissioned eight background papers and 20 research reports. They provide a significant knowledge resource for the sector.
There have been increasing calls for research agendas relating to ageing and aged care services. [1-3] In 2021, the National Ageing Research Institute (NARI) was commissioned by the Australian Department of Health to work with relevant experts to identify the priority research areas for aged care reforms. A literature review and environmental scan identified five key research needs built on a question posed as 'How can aged care services contribute to quality of life in older age and end of life?' Five research gaps (1.89MB pdf) were presented for discussion at a national roundtable:
- Staying healthy and connected
- Providing unpaid care
- Accessing and using home care
- Residential care
- End of life.
The discussion paper also noted that issues needed to be addressed across care settings and acknowledged the impact of Covid-19 were also noted.
The significance of aged care research is demonstrated by the Dementia, Ageing and Aged Care Mission of the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF). This research mission seeks to support older Australians to maintain their health and quality of life as they age, live independently for longer, and access quality care when they need it.
Using research findings
There are a number of centres and institutes around Australia with a focus on ageing research. Research can take place in a range of settings wherever older people are living. Studies can involve a range of designs and methodologies including but not limited to:
- clinical trials of medication and drug safety
- evaluating interventions for dementia care
- operational issues
- partnerships with families
- models of care, and
- participatory action research.
Research alone however, does not necessarily lead to improved care. Effective dissemination strategies are required to ensure older people benefit from research findings. Translation of research into everyday practice is complex and is itself a field of research often referred to as ‘knowledge translation’. A literature review carried out by Masso and McArthy  in preparation for the Encouraging Better Practice in Aged Care (EBPRAC) program identified the following factors as being important for consideration for the implementation of evidence-based practice:
- a receptive context for change
- having a model of change to guide implementation
- adequate resources
- staff with the necessary skills
- stakeholder engagement, participation and commitment
- the nature of the change in practice
- systems in place to support the use of evidence, and
- demonstrable benefits of the change.
Aged Care Research & Industry Innovation Australia (ARIIA) has been funded by the Department of Health and Aged Care to drive evidence use, innovation and partnerships in aged care. The national research centre will bring together consumers, industry and researchers to translate research into practice and develop stronger workforce capability to pave the way for sector wide improvements.
Becoming an aged care researcher
Many RACFs are becoming involved in research projects. Some may be included as a setting for research work. Others may collect data. Some RACFs may have received a grant and be working on their own research project. Some aged care providers, recognising how critical research is to core services and care provision, have embedded research teams into their organisations. Others have made collaborative funding arrangements with universities to create aged care based academic positions.
For those beginning in research, the Research Centre for Palliative Care, Death, and Dying (RePADD) pages: Getting Started in Research provides an overview of processes and skills in research.
Page updated 24 August 2022