Events, The Older Person

Identifying And Addressing Shared Challenges In Conducting Health And Social Care Research For Older People (OPAL)

Background To The OPAL Programme

The world’s population is ageing: virtually every country in the world is experiencing growth in the number and proportion of older people in their population. The number of older people (aged 60 years or over) is expected to more than double by 2050 and to more than triple by 2100 (UN, 2017). Older people are the major users of health and social care, and the challenges of meeting the health and social care needs of a growing population of older people are shared across the globe. There are approximately 16 million people aged 65 and older in Brazil, set to rise to 65 million in 2050. The phenomenon of a rapidly ageing population, with associated rising health and social care needs, are seen as a pressing issue in Brazil.

The Newton Fund Researcher Links OPAL programme, funded by the British Council and the Sao Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP), was held in June 2018 to develop research collaborations between the UK (led by University of Nottingham) and Brazil (UNESP). The focus of the workshop was identifying and addressing shared challenges in conducting health and social care research for older people. The aim was to bring British and Brazilian Early Career Researchers together to develop international collaborations and knowledge sharing opportunities.

“I’m Going To Brazil”

I heard about this amazing opportunity thanks to a link shared via social media by the Dementia Researcher network, and to my amazement was fortunate enough to be awarded a place. My particular areas of research are older people requiring long term care, and the challenges of involving people with cognitive impairments in research (NIHR Fellowship funded by Health and Care Research Wales). At the Centre for Trials Research we conduct clinical trials and other research with populations such as older people living in care homes (including the PRINCESS Study) so have experience of many of the challenges involved. Meeting and sharing these experiences with Brazilian researchers, and hearing about their research interests and expertise, sounded like a once in a lifetime opportunity!

I joined a group of 13 researchers from across the UK and 18 Brazilian researchers for a week in Botucatu in the Sao Paulo region of Brazil, together with the organisers (Associate Professors Adam Gordon and Alessandro Ferrari Jacinto and their teams) and a team of senior researchers acting as mentors. During the week we heard a lot about the issues involved in undertaking research with older populations in both Brazil and the UK, and had an opportunity to present our work and relevant research interests. However, the main focus was creating international partnerships with the aim of developing competitive research proposals. Different groups were created around interests such as frailty, experiences of receiving a diagnosis of dementia, and palliative care.

Research In Long-Term Care Settings

Our working group of 3 UK and 2 Brazilian researchers quickly established common interests in research in long term care institutions, and recognised the opportunities for collaborating on joint research in this area.

Long term care research working group (from left): Reena Devi, Natalia Ricci, Victoria Shepherd, Patrick Wachholz, Kathryn Hinsliff-Smith

There are 3,549 long term care institutions (LTCIs) in Brazil, but the content and quality of care provided is not yet well understood, and very little research is conducted in these settings. In the UK there are 19,000 care homes providing care for 400,000 older people. We recognised that many of the challenges are shared internationally, and that some work already conducted in the UK could be updated and broadened to include the Brazilian context. An ambitious ‘wish list’ of research was created, which captured the topics we considered to be priorities for future research.

Adventures In Botucatu

As well as a busy work schedule, there were opportunities to learn about and enjoy the Brazilian culture, and especially the local cachaça (a rum-like spirit famous as the basis for caipirinha) with our incredibly friendly hosts. A gala dinner was one of the highlights of the week, with optional walks to local waterfalls, and plenty of tropical fruits and cake to try (cake for breakfast is proving a hard habit to shake!).

What Next?

Our working group has already created links to existing consortiums who are seeking to develop international approaches to developing research in long term care settings. We have also identified a number of small scale projects that we can start to develop in order to understand the existing research, and help us get to a position where as a team we can develop competitive funding proposals for larger scale work in this area. This may include building on a planned follow up event in Botucatu next year to strengthen our researcher links and help identify new collaborators and opportunities.

Importantly, we have also created real friendships which is a great basis on which to build both national and international research collaborations. I look forward to exciting work ahead!

Obrigada Brasil, tchau!

Sao Paulo State University (UNESP), Botucatu, Brazil

June 2018