Research into practice

Research points to an unhelpful division that exists in advice, advocacy and information services for older people, writes Neil Thompson Researchers from the University of Reading have issued a study exploring the needs and circumstances of older people in relation to information, advice and advocacy services. In particular, it aimed to explore:

  • Barriers faced by older people in seeking to access such services.
  • The views of older people on what information services they want and what their priorities are.
  • The perceptions on the part of older people of the distinctions made by service providers between information, advice and advocacy.
  • The challenges of providing accurate and comprehensive information.
  • The resource limitations involved.

The research, which took place in Slough, involved interviews with older people, both individually and within focus groups as well as interviews with service providers. One important finding was the existence of barriers at three levels: older people’s lack of awareness of how information, advice or advocacy could be of benefit to them; gaining access to the services; and receiving help in achieving practical solutions.

The researchers also found that older people did not find distinctions between the terms, “information”, “advice” and “advocacy” helpful. However, what they did value was continuity of contact so that they did not have to recount their circumstances to new people and a follow-up service to ensure that, where possible, a solution was achieved.

One worrying tendency identified was that it appeared to be the case that areas of concern to older people could be overlooked if they did not fit within agency guidelines or procedures. This raises the questions of how well we are able to listen to older people’s needs and how successful we are in creating the right atmosphere to make older people feel comfortable enough to articulate their needs and concerns.

In this regard, this particular research project, with its strong emphasis on participation and working in partnership, can act as a role model and thus help us to move away from some of the paternalistic “we know best” approaches that have been all too common in the past and are still to be found today.

Sadly, it was also noted that “services lacked the resources to develop and maintain co-ordinated information databases”. However, on a more positive note, this research can, in itself, be used to support efforts to secure higher levels of funding for such ventures.

The researchers make the following recommendations based on their findings:

  • Statutory and voluntary organisations should work together to set up a comprehensive database and to provide a more comprehensive information centre for older people.
  • Such a database should include information about quality of life matters, such as leisure activities.
  • Resources should be secured to update and maintain the database regularly.
  • The database should be accessible to as wide a range of agencies as possible.

It is to be hoped that this will prove to be an influential report and will not only play a part in securing better information, advice and advocacy services for older people, but also in adopting participative approaches based on genuine partnership.

Ann Quinn, Angela Snowling and Pam Denicolo, Older People’s Perspectives on Devising Information, Advice and Advocacy Services York Publishing Services (on behalf of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation) price £11.95 plus £2 postage and packing.

Neil Thompson is a trainer and consultant with Avenue Consulting ( ). His latest book is Communication and Language: A Handbook of Theory and Practice, Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.

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