by Katharine Orellana at the Institute of Gerontology and Social Care Workforce Research Unit at King’s College London.

This blog shares some of the findings of a research study undertaken in 2014-17 that investigated the role and purpose of day centres for older people.

A review of the literature from 2005-17 found that non-specialist day centres in England are like Burroughs’ famous novel The Land That Time Forgot; very little research has been published about their role and purpose or how they are perceived. One may wonder why since day centres account for the largest out-of-home service used by around 10% of older people in receipt of publicly-funded care.

To redress this balance, I spent fifteen months collecting data at four generalist day centres for older people – those not specialising in the care of people with dementia. This involved visiting a day centre on the same day each week for fourteen weeks, staying for the whole day; I spent at least 280 hours across 56 days at them. These visits were for a study which aimed to improve the understanding of the purpose and role of English generalist day centres for older people by painting a rich and contemporary picture of them. I was investigating what they offer, who uses them, why and how, what they contribute to the lives of those involved with them, how they are perceived and how they relate to health and social care services. On these days, I chatted with the older people, staff and volunteers, joined in with activities and collected data with which to build rich and contemporary descriptions of day centres. Over this period, I also interviewed 69 people: older day centre attenders (23), family carers (10), day centre staff, volunteers and managers (23) and local authority social care staff (13). My weekly visits were crucial to recruitment and the content of in-depth interviews as they helped potential participants accept, trust and feel comfortable with me.

What are day centres, anyway? They are services based in a building. They may differ in what they offer, their target users, admission criteria, ownership, size, building used and the ways they are funded. Their similarity lies in their provision of care and/or health-related services and/or activities specifically for older people who are disabled and/or in need, in a building which people can attend for a whole day or part of a day.

For some, day centres for older people may conjure up images of incessant bingo and unstimulated people sitting around the edges of a dull room in an isolated building away from the community. This was not my experience.

Instead of being an outdated service model, the traditional, non-specialist day centre emerged as highly policy-relevant. Day centres enhanced the quality of life of and made a unique contribution to their attenders’ lives. They provided what older people with high support needs have said they valued: social interaction, being able to make a contribution, control, independence, continuity, self-esteem, humour, mental health (including a sense of purpose), safety, getting out and about and physical activities (Katz et al. 2011). Centres also offered added value. Thinking of the future, the study identified the potential for their development and optimisation to improve older people’s health and wellbeing, to support carers and to maximise the impact of health and social care services. A new evidence briefing summarises the study’s findings, their relevance and implications for commissioners.

The study was undertaken at King’s College London and funded by The Dunhill Medical Trust’s Older People’s Care Improvement Initiative. Outcomes for attenders and carers were both reported in interviews and measured with a validated tool, the Adult Social Care Outcomes Toolkit (ASCOT).

For more information, contact me at katharine.e.orellana@kcl.ac.uk.