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At the centre of local support

The importance of day care services

We explore a recent study that highlights the overwhelmingly positive experiences older people have had from attending day care, and their potential to make a significant contribution to the wider health and social care agenda.

By: Age UK


Recent research by the University of Bristol found that day care services are highly valued by older people and their carers, and that they have the potential to make a significant contribution to the wider health and social care agenda.   

The ‘Reimagining Collective forms of Day Care Provision for Older People’ study was funded by the National Institute for Health Research, School for Social Care Research and undertaken by a team of researchers at the University of Bristol and their partners BS3 Community Development. The study included in-depth case studies of 8 collective day care settings across England.

Ailsa Cameron, Professor of Health and Social Care from the School for Policy Studies at the University of Bristol, visited settings with her team of researchers between September 2021 and July 2022, when many settings were re-opening after the closures brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. During these visits the team talked to more than 120 people, including older people attending services, carers, care workers, managers and local stakeholders.

The key findings

The people the researchers spoke to described overwhelmingly positive experiences from attending day care.  Attendees shared that going to day care reduced their feelings of loneliness or isolation and gave them opportunities to make new friends and re-establish old friendships. 

Although some people said they liked participating in quizzes and bingo, most people told researchers that they enjoyed having opportunities to learn new skills or utilise existing skills, and that these experiences increased confidence and self-esteem, as well as improving mental and physical wellbeing

People particularly appreciated having a choice and variety of things to do, reflecting the diverse interests and experiences of all people. Many people wanted to take part in activities that gave them a sense of purpose, such as working towards the completion of a project or task, such as maintaining a garden. There was also enthusiasm for continuing existing, or pursuing new, interests such as woodwork, music or sport – or learning and sharing skills such as how to use IT or learning how to paint.  Above all, respondents said they wanted to have fun and opportunities to build friendships.

Carers were very positive about the impact of day care. They commented that they really valued that day care gave them a regular break, usually between 4-6 hours, which they could use as they wished.  Knowing that the person they cared for was going to have an enjoyable day of socialising alongside staff they knew and trusted meant carers could enjoy a guilt-free break. Many long-term carers said that without day care they weren’t sure they would be able to cope, and that it would force them to consider alternatives such as long-term residential care.

A partnership that works

Many of the centres visited were working in partnership with other community groups and organisations. By working with organisations such as sports clubs, theatres, and libraries, they were able to offer a more diverse programme of opportunities, providing greater choice and variety for people.

Researchers also learnt about the partnerships between day care services and healthcare, which were actively contributing to the preventative agenda. For example, several of the day centres were delivering health education interventions, including programmes focused on mobility and strength or to support the management of conditions such as diabetes or long COVID.

In addition, other centres were providing long-term support as part of NHS pathways – for example long-term falls prevention or rehabilitation programmes post-NHS discharge – while some day centres specialising in dementia were working with local dementia clinics to hold joint clinics.

These findings suggest that day care services have the potential to contribute to wider health and social care policy aims, including playing a central role in local location-based partnerships, supporting wellbeing and health of older people and carers, providing opportunities for connection and joy, and serving as a central and trusted partner in local community networks and partnerships.

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Last updated: Apr 30 2024

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