Empowering older people to engage in healthcare discussions

A research project aims to give older Australians a say when decisions are being made about their healthcare.

A Torrens University Australia-led research project involving two aged care providers aims to give older Australians a seat at the table when important decisions are being made about their healthcare.

Funded to the tune of $584 million under the Medical Research Future Fund’s Dementia, Ageing and Aged Care Mission, the IMPAACT Project seeks to empower older people to participate in discussions about employing early intervention measures to improve their health and wellbeing.

Rachel Ambagtsheer

“It will assist them to engage with important evidence-based information that will enable them to appropriately assess the risks and benefits of screening and assessment for a range of common health conditions,” lead researcher Dr Rachel Ambagtsheer told Community Care Review.

The project will apply a deliberative methodology, said Dr Ambagtsheer – a research fellow and PhD candidate at the Adelaide university. “Which means a method in which members of the public are guided through a structured process designed to obtain their informed input on important questions facing society.”

Specifically, the researchers will be assembling citizens’ juries. “Whereby a group drawn by the community will be brought together over a couple of days to listen to the evidence on a key policy question – in this case, under what circumstances should screening be provided within the community for a range of common health conditions – engage with experts and come to consensus decision and recommendations.”

To maximise diversity among the jurors, the researchers will bring together people aged 50-plus from all walks of life to participate in the jury process. Project partners include South Australian aged care providers ECH Inc and Multicultural Aged Care.

Dr Ambagtsheer told CCR that once the juries have deliberated, the Torrens team will convene a series of policy roundtables “so that we can bring the recommendations to the ears of the policy-makers, clinicians and industry representatives.”

Tackling ageism

The IMPACCT project also aims to raise awareness about ageism. “Both the perceptions that older people have about their own ageing, and the way that health service providers may view the ageing process,” said Dr Ambagtsheer.

Ageism has important implications for the quality and range of services offered to older Australians, she added. “It’s a very common misconception in society that, as we get older, there’s not much that really can be done to improve our health and wellbeing – in other words, that as things happen to us, we should basically accept our lot. So older people may not be aware that they can access preventive health services like screening, for example, or might be hesitant to ask.”

Equally, health service providers may not offer preventive screening to older people. Dr Ambagtsheer points to frailty screening as a good example. Health providers may have a belief that there is not much that can be done to improve frailty, she said. “Whereas research has shown that frailty is a dynamic condition, and with the right intervention in place, older people can and do improve their frailty status. Our research aims, in part, to challenge some of these misconceptions.”

While conducting the research, Dr Ambagtsheer and her Torrens team will be working in collaboration with:

  • Flinders University
  • University of Wollongong
  • The University of Adelaide
  • Southern Cross University
  • Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute
  • University of Manitoba
  • University of Alberta
  • Office for Ageing Well
  • Multicultural Aged Care
  • ECH Inc.

It’s hoped the IMPACCT Project will provide the foundation for Torrens – an emerging young university – to be a leader in Australian ageing research and bring forward new ideas around ageism, said Dr Ambagtsheer. “We have a strong teaching program in this area and this research will improve how we build the future workforce for the aged care industry.”  

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