McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

Home support keeps seniors out of hospital, but does little to improve health

By Suzanne Morrison
Published: October 31, 2008
Maureen Markle-Reid
Maureen Markle-Reid, associate professor in the School of Nursing

A new study by researchers at McMaster University found current home support services can play an important role in keeping seniors at home and out of hospital and reduce overall cost of use of health services, but had little effect on improving their health.

Over a six month period, the study examined changes in health status, as well as the cost of use of health services, among 122 people 75 years and older using publicly funded home support services.

Home support services consist of supervision, psychosocial support, personal assistance (bathing and dressing), basic nursing tasks (medication administration and simple wound or bowel care) as well as activities of daily living (housekeeping and meal preparation).

Lead author Maureen Markle-Reid, associate professor in the School of Nursing, said extra hours of home support services (more than one hour a week) helped to keep more seniors in their own homes – with fewer ending up in hospital, "but had little effect on improving their health"

The research, entitled Seniors at Risk:  The Association between the Six-Month Use of Publicly Funded Home Support Services and Quality of Life and Use of Health Services for Older People, appears in the latest issue of the Canadian Journal on Aging.

Markle-Reid said that while the findings of the study confirm the important role of these services in maintaining seniors at home, they also suggest the need for a more holistic, preventive, health promotion approach to the delivery of home support services which could replace the current system which focuses more on physical needs.

The ideal approach would include strategies that are more health-oriented, proactive and comprehensive to maximize health outcomes while containing costs, the research paper said. It also emphasized the need for more research, particularly large randomized trials which could test innovative ways of delivering home support services.

In August, 2007, the Ontario government launched its $1.1 billion, four year Aging at Home Strategy which is designed to allow seniors to live healthy, independent lives in the comfort and dignity of their own homes.

The strategy plans to match the needs of seniors and their caregivers with appropriate local support services to avoid premature admission to long-term care homes or hospitals.

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