It is amazing what 30 years as a member of the BSG can do for perspective. Yesterday, Jill Manthorpe, a self-confessed BSG veteran gave a thoughtful and thought-provoking review of the experience of doing research with older people. In Wise Owls Revisited: Involving Older People in Research on Ageing, Jill reflected on 17 years of running a Service User and Carer Advisory Group for her research centre. This was an academic, speaking with passion and honesty, about a challenging but worthwhile aspect of gerontology. As many universities appear obsessed with the bottom line of research income, it was fascinating to hear that a group of older adults, volunteers from diverse backgrounds, will stick with a research centre, through thick and thin, for 17 years. The consistent and dedicated work of Jill’s “Owls” has enriched the research on ageing undertaken at the Social Care Workforce Research Unit at King’s College (http://www.kcl.ac.uk/sspp/policy-institute/scwru/res/nihr-sscr/index.aspx) in so many different ways. The “Owls” have influenced the appointment of staff, and made researchers learn how challenging a truly co-produced piece of research is. Jill’s presentation was also clear on the limitations of co-investigation where funds are limited, but expectations are high. Managing the expectations of researchers and co-investigators is a core challenge when involving older people in our research. Jill’s reflections and honesty led to a fascinating discussion. One question is how we can involve those with experiential knowledge of ageing, caring or using a service in producing scientific knowledge in the sense that is recognised by peers and funders. The inclusion of a user perspectives and lived experience will always be an important goal of gerontology research; thanks to pioneers like Jill we can have realistic expectations of what can be achieved and by whom.
Jill’s talk was followed, very aptly, by Sarah Penney, who took us through an action learning project called My Home Life, a UK wide initiative (http://myhomelife.org.uk/). Sarah presented a compelling story of the challenges that exist for care home managers in helping staff to ‘do things differently’ in care homes. The programme seems to have been a huge success in causing care home managers to see their work as more about relationships between staff, residents and their relatives than about task management. Sarah provided evidence of how simple, small scale initiatives such as decision trees, establishing a FaN base (friends and neighbours of the care home) and This is Me – Now which allows staff to see the person in dementia. While this programme is still at an early stage, there is huge potential for these approaches to transform long-term care for many residents and their families. Having heard about the benefit of myhomelife from a manager perspective, we are looking forward to the next stage of the initiative, which will involve the input of residents..
Building our launch event Representing Age in April this year, (http://www.ark.ac.uk/ap/bsgni/representing-age/) this second BSG NI event demonstrated a serious scholarly interest in gerontology from those employed in providing services, care or aiming to involve older people in research. To our minds, it demonstrated that gerontology offers those from academic, community and statutory sectors an important lens through which to understand the lived experience, policy challenges and research questions that arise from longevity. BSG NI would like to thank the Institute for Research in Social Sciences (IRiSS) at Ulster University, and particularly Prof Brian Taylor for supporting this event.
Gemma Carney, Paula Devine, Mabel Stevenson and Lynn Johnston.