Friday, July 2, 1999 Published at 14:15 GMT 15:15 UK
Better training 'can boost elderly health'
Elderly people's health improves if staff are given formal training
Offering staff who work in old people's homes structured training can reduce depression and confusion and cut visits from the doctor, say researchers.
They say many residential and nursing home staff only receive minimum training, despite the fact that most frail elderly people are now cared for in the community rather than in hospital.
In The Lancet, they describe a small-scale study which shows vulnerable elderly people were significantly less depressed and confused after staff working with them were given six months' training.
Elderly organisations say training is vital to ensure residents' needs are properly met. They add that staff also benefit as they feel more motivated.
The study involved 120 vulnerable residents at 12 residential and nursing homes in south Manchester.
Staff received weekly seminars which included basic information about all psychiatric disorders in old age and therapeutic approaches to care.
The sessions also dealt with particular problems, such as aggression and dementia.
An experienced psychiatric nurse visited each home every week, offering advice and support on setting behavioural goals for each resident.
Staff were also given help in how to handle behavioural problems in a practical way.
The residents were assessed for improvements in their health and behaviour and significant improvements were found.
The researchers, led by Professor Alistair Burns of the University of Manchester School of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences, said: "Our findings support the idea that regular supervision combined with formal teaching for care staff is an easily applied and economically viable procedure to enable positive changes in outcome for residents in long-term care."
They added that a larger, longer-term study needed to be conducted.
A spokeswoman for Age Concern said training which encouraged staff to look at the individual needs of a frail elderly person could help them to participate in activities and could improve their self-esteem.
"There has been a lot of generalising that some frail or disabled elderly people may not want to participate in activities," she stated.
"This can have long-term benefits for their well-being."
She added that staff with little or no training were more likely to do things as they had always been done.
Those who had been trained often felt more confident and able to target individual needs and be more creative, using a variety of techniques to involve residents in activities.
She said: "People with no training might say that Mrs X just likes to sit and watch TV and perhaps, if left on her own, that is what she would do.
"But if she is given encouragement and support and a creative approach is taken to involving her despite her disability she can do more and her self-esteem will improve.
"This can also be very motivating for staff. When a person feels valued and responds well, staff feel they are doing an effective job."