New research on Shared Lives and older people

Our Director of Support and Development, Anna McEwen, writes with an update on the launch of new independent research into Shared Lives for older people from Kent University:

89 year old Betty described Shared Lives as a lifeline, allowing her and her 91 year old husband with Alzheimers to keep their dignity as they aged.  Betty got to know a Shared Lives carer who supported her for a few hours a week.  The Shared Lives carer got to know Betty and her husband which meant that when Betty had to go into hospital suddenly, her husband was able to go and stay with the Shared Lives carer.  This gave Betty peace of mind and her husband a personalised short break with someone who he knew well at a difficult time when his wife and main carer was in hospital.

PSSRU (Personal Social Services Research Unit) at the University of Kent have recently finished a 2 year research project looking at Shared Lives as an option for older people who have social care support needs.  This project was funded by the NIHR School for Social Care Research, and began before Shared Lives Plus offered dedicated support to schemes developing this area of work.  The work was not commissioned by Shared Lives Plus but in response to wider work around personalised services that deliver good outcomes at low cost. It builds on the interest and learning generated by an earlier dementia project led by Shared Lives South West and Innovations in Dementia.

The research consisted of questionnaires sent out to all older people using Shared Lives at the time to get a sense of the quality of life people using Shared Lives were experiencing and their views on the service, and then some more detailed work with 3 schemes.  The questionnaires on quality of life were compared with people using other social care services via the Adult Social Care Survey to establish the quality of life of older people using Shared Lives when compared to other forms of social care.

74% of older people using Shared Lives rated their quality of life as good or very good, and just 4% rated bad. When compared to other forms of social care and average social care quality of life (based on ASCOT), older people using Shared Lives had better overall quality of life on a par with people who do not require social care support.

Barriers highlighted by the research for expansion of Shared Lives for older people included: lack of referrals, lack of awareness of Shared Lives, familiarity with other (more traditional) social care services, budget structures and pressures in local authorities, eligibility criteria, lack of Shared Lives carers with appropriate accommodation and/or skills and perceptions of safety & accountability.

Opportunities for expansion of Shared Lives for older people included: active promotion of Shared Lives, awareness raising to social work teams, specialised training for Shared Lives carers, support from senior managers, Care Bill implementation and evidence of the benefits of Shared Lives.

This research took place at a time when Shared Lives was still a little known option for older and disabled people, and Shared Lives Plus was a tiny organisation supporting the sector.  The samples used to compare quality of life were very small and there were a number of limitations to the research because of this, although the research clearly shows how much Shared Lives is valued by the older people currently using it.

However, if the research was repeated starting in 2014, I think we would start to see a much bigger picture.  Shared Lives Plus has secured funding to offer dedicated support to the sector to develop services for older people in the form of a development officer and production of a series of tools, resources and business cases to support Shared Lives carers, schemes, commissioners and external providers.  This support has kick started a dramatic increase in schemes who are now diversifying to offer support to older people and people living with dementia, and we expect to see the numbers of older people using Shared Lives rise significantly over the coming years.

This research gives us some really useful and interesting baseline information to start from as we seek to support the development of the Shared sector, and the quotes from older people using Shared Lives speak for themselves:

“Being made to feel part of a family gives me confidence, a feeling of being wanted and not alone.”

“Shared Lives gives me something to look forward to and a purpose in life”

“It’s a lifeline, it’s contact, it’s help to live, it’s support and very valuable”

“Living with a couple in Shared Lives keeps me out of hospital.  If I am troubled with anything I can talk about it with my carer who encourages me and completely supports me”

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