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 increasing recognition that residents of aged care facilities have particular palliative care needs which can increase at the end-of-life.
Research has an important role in aged care facilities to ensure that residents receive care and treatment according to the best available evidence. Research can also address family issues and considerations around service delivery and care models. A number of other activities including accreditation, evaluation and audit processes can also contribute to the quality of residential aged care. The CareSearch pages: Getting Started in Palliative Care Research contain information about what distinguishes research from other quality activities.
Policy driven aged care reform foregrounds the role of research in aged care. Aged care research is recognised as part of national research priorities and initiatives. In 2011, the Australian Research Council (ARC) established an ARC Centre of Excellence bringing together researchers, government and industry with the aim of developing research on population ageing (The Centre for Population Ageing Research).
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) established the Framework for an Australian Ageing Research Agenda  in 2003, with the aim of strengthening networks and research collaborations. The recently legislated department of health and ageing reform package Living longer, living better acknowledges the need to support aged care research and the translation of research into everyday practice. Care for people with dementia and palliative care are included as priority areas.
The 2011 Productivity commission report: Caring for older Australians, highlights the need for ongoing research. The report identifies the following areas as research gaps:
- carer burden
- models of care
- all areas of dementia research
- restorative care measures, and
- models and service interfaces.
The 2013 SANE report, Growing older, staying well: Mental health care for older Australians (606kb pdf) highlights the lack of attention to mental illness in older people and the need for mental health training and education for aged care workers.
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.
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.
Initiatives such as the NHMRC Partnership Centre for Dealing with Cognitive and Related Functional Decline in Older People aims to bring teams of decision makers and researchers together through national collaborations addressing issues of priority. Sixteen aged care organisations across the country were designated Teaching and Research Aged Care Services (TRACS). These centres combined research with teaching and care provision providing a focus for disciplinary training and development. Final reporting in 2016 (2.43MB pdf) showed that most age care facilities involved in the TRACS program gained a positive benefit although in-house capacity and infrastructure to support education was a requirement.