The importance of involving older people and carers in health research


A new Perspectives Brief from the Deeble Institute for Health Policy Research shines a light on the importance of involving older people and their carers as co-researchers to enhance healthcare delivery tailored to their needs.

Led by Dr Hannah Beks of Deakin University, the Brief, titled ‘Translating policy into practice by engaging older people and their carers as co-researchers,’ delves into the benefits and challenges of meaningful engagement in participatory health research.

“In order to function effectively, health care systems need to be responsive to the changing needs of our populations,” AHHA Chief Executive Kylie Woolcock said. “Around the world, the percentage of people aged over 60 years is increasing and is set to continue to grow over the coming decades.”

“In response to this changing need, the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety (2021) identified the need to improve the delivery of health care to meet the needs of older persons and their carers, and directly involving them in this process is critical in achieving positive outcomes that actually matter to these communities.”

The Perspectives Brief tackles the gaps in knowledge regarding best practices for engaging older people and their carers as co-researchers, with a specific focus on optimising carer engagement, an aspect often overlooked.

Barriers to conducting such research projects include challenges in building relationships with older individuals and researchers, negative perceptions of research and power imbalances between academic researchers and older people as co-researchers.

“By focusing on facilitators for positively engaging older persons and their carers such as tailored support to facilitate research participation of older persons and their carers, opportunities for older persons to upskill in the processes of research and improving flexibility to accommodate for the individualised nature of co-researcher participation, we can start to address some of these barriers,” Woolcock said.

The Brief also acknowledges the diverse nature of older people and their carers, considering specific populations such as First Nations Elders, those with complex health conditions, individuals from culturally diverse backgrounds, and those in rural areas.

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