A Grand Day Out: working with care home residents to increase participation in research

In this blog post, Dr Sibylle Thies from the University of Salford shares some of her top-tips for conducting research alongside care home residents.

Portrait photo of Dr Sibylle Thies (white woman with long brown hair) smiling.

The steps we have taken aim to support participation and make our participants feel more valued

Many research projects aimed at improving life for older people seek to recruit participants from care homes. But, as I’m sure many researchers have experienced, this isn’t always easy.

We recently carried out a research study, funded by the Dunhill Medical Trust, that assessed the use of walking frames in older people. For part of the project, we wanted to include care home residents, but we came across a number of different hurdles and initially struggled to recruit sufficient numbers.

Despite these challenges, we knew how important it was to carry out research aimed at helping people living in care homes, and to include them in that research. So instead of giving up and avoiding recruiting from care homes, we decided to find ways to identify and address the issues.

Through friendly chats with care home residents and care staff we identified any problems or barriers to their participation – whether practical or emotional – and then developed ways to solve these problems. This approach greatly helped our recruitment, and we were able to complete the study.

As this is likely a common problem, we wrote up some of our approaches in a ‘best practice’ guide that we hope will help others to overcome those same barriers.

Identifying solutions
The first thing we did was talk to people to identify and explore their hesitations around participating in research. We then developed ways to work around these, to make them more comfortable and make it easier to take part.

For example, many people were anxious about coming to a university campus to meet researchers they didn’t know. To overcome this, we initiated ‘meet and greet’ sessions ahead of time in the participants’ care homes, so that they knew they were visiting a familiar face.

We also arranged all transport for them, and invited them to come in groups or to bring a friend or carer with them for support. Nearly everyone came with someone else, showing how important this aspect was to them.

It was important to us that the experience of taking part in the study was pleasant and enjoyable, so we focused on making the whole thing feel like a ‘grand day out’. We provided refreshments, took photographs of them in the lab and printed them on the day (some of them wanted to show their grandchildren!), and took them out for lunch.

By understanding some of the reasons that people may be hesitant to participate, and working with them to solve those problems and make them comfortable, we turned this from an experience that caused anxiety – or even prevented participation – into a great day for participants. This made a huge difference in helping to recruit people for our study, and we hope that our best practice guidance can help to do the same for yours.

Best practice guidance
To help other researchers, we’ve written up some of the barriers we found and approaches we developed to overcome them in a freely downloadable best practice guide.

This document explains in more detail nine different things that we have adopted into our research practice over time, through our experiences with our DMT project and also follow-on work supported by the Dowager Countess Eleanor Peel Trust. The steps we have taken aim to support participation and make our participants feel more valued – including thanking them with a certificate and gratuity payment.

We would love to hear more about barriers that other groups have found when working with care home residents, and ways that these have been overcome. We really hope that this makes a difference and helps to support further research aiming to improve life for this often-overlooked group of older people.