Measuring quality of life in aged care

The paramount importance of quality of life to aged care consumers and their families was highlighted on the first day of the royal commission into aged care. But how do we measure this, writes Professor Julie Ratcliffe.

The paramount importance of quality of life to aged care consumers and their families was highlighted on the first day of the royal commission into aged care. But how do we measure this, asks Professor Julie Ratcliffe.

Professor Julie Ratcliffe

While giving evidence on Monday, COTA CEO Ian Yates said a survey had shown that aged care consumers placed a premium on quality of life, including being treated with dignity and respect, staff friendliness, feeling safe and secure and being supported to raise concerns about service and food.

Other factors were independence, control of daily life and being supported to maintain social relationships and community connections.

“All of those are really high priority measures for people in terms of how they judge an aged care service. And if they have knowledge about that, how they would choose,” he said.

Information about quality of life and the impact that aged care providers make in improving the quality of life of their consumers should be routinely collected and made publicly available as a key quality indicator for the sector to assist in developing industry standards and inform consumer choice and decision-making.

To do this we need to continuously monitor and evaluate quality of life using robust tools developed specifically for measuring and valuing quality of life from the perspective of aged care consumers and their families.

A new research project

Our new research project, funded via the Australian Research Council Linkage Program, aims to do just that.

We will use state of the art methods, employing both qualitative and quantitative methodologies to find out what quality of life means to older Australians in receipt of aged care and to identify the quality of life domains of importance to them.

These key domains will be incorporated into the first Australian aged care sector specific quality of life instrument developed from the ground up with aged care consumers and their families.

Our new quality of life instrument will be designed for easy completion by aged care consumers across a variety of platforms and will use a preference weighted scoring system based upon the relative importance or weight attached to each quality of life domain from a representative sample of aged care consumers.

We will build on our collective research and practical stakeholder experience to incorporate the preferences of older people from a variety of care settings in the development, validation and valuation of the new instrument.

Our three year project forms a flagship project for the proposed Flinders University Caring Futures Institute and brings together research leaders from Flinders University, University of Sydney and Australian National University (ANU) with expertise in quality of life research, health economics, choice modelling, aged and dementia care policy and practice and five partner aged care organisations.

Our partner organisations ECH, Helping Hand, Uniting AgeWell, Uniting ACT NSW and Presbyterian Aged Care provide community and residential aged care services with wide outreach and a combined coverage across five Australian states (SA, VIC, NSW, ACT, TAS).

The new quality of life instrument will have wide applicability in quality assessment and economic evaluation for aged care system decision making, ultimately improving the quality of life and wellbeing of older Australians and placing the measurement and valuation of quality of life from a consumer perspective where it should be – at the front and centre of our aged care system.

Julie Ratcliffe is Mathew Flinders Professor of Health Economics with the Health and Social Care Economics Group at Flinders University College of Nursing and Health Sciences.

To stay up to date on the latest about the Royal Commission into Aged Care and Quality go to our special coverage. We will also be issuing regular Royal Commission Roundup reports which you’ll receive in addition to your weekly e-newsletters.

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