12 December 2018

Living Lab in Ageing and Long-Term Care: a unique selling point for UM

For people with dementia, so-called “care farms” provide a much improved experience. And in nursing homes in South Limburg, the doors are no longer locked. The purpose of these changes in long-term care is to improve the quality of life of vulnerable older people. At the Living Lab in Ageing and Long-Term Care in South Limburg, these improvements go hand in hand with high-quality scientific research.

jan hamers

About 10 years ago, we developed an intervention to prevent and reduce the use of physical restraints in nursing homes in Limburg. The introduction of restraint-free care makes us not only a pioneer in the Netherlands and abroad, but also – along with several of our other research projects – served as input for the new Dutch Care and Coercion Act that will come into force on 1 January 2020. The Living Lab was always intended to have an impact this way: top scientific quality, while also providing a clear impetus for healthcare practice, policy and education from vocational to university level. Ultimately, our goal is to change care practice and really improve long-term care for the future, both at home and in nursing homes.”

Joint appointments

Hamers has no doubt as to the secret of the Living Lab’s success: “Joint appointments! University staff are seconded to care organisations, and care staff – nurses, physiotherapists, doctors – are posted to universities. We also work with ‘linking pins’; each organisation has its own point of contact. Without this kind of cross-fertilisation we’d never have accomplished this level of success.” A good example of this cross-fertilisation is the research project Anders Meten. “The aim is to develop a new method of measuring the quality of care, from the recipient’s point of view. Instead of using standard evaluation forms, we have nurses conduct interviews from three perspectives: resident, family and caregiver. The nurses are trained to conduct these interviews by UMIO, the institute for professional education at the UM School of Business and Economics. They don’t do the interviews at their own organisations, of course: nurses from one care organisation interview residents at a different organisation. In this way, the Living Lab contributes to building a learning network in which care organisations learn directly from one another.”

International

The Living Lab approach has attracted much international attention, from Canada to South Korea. “The University of Leeds has set up a similar programme with our help. Actually, you could say that Leeds has basically copied us; the Brits are very enthusiastic. In that sense, our approach to long-term care is a unique selling point for UM.” The Living Lab is increasingly conducting research beyond the borders of Limburg as well. “We’re currently working on a Horizon 2020 project in Lisbon, for example, which is setting up a Living Lab at the intersection of long-term care, technology and health tourism. It’s nice to get that recognition. Based on another major European FP7 project, we concluded that the Netherlands is the European allround champion when it comes to care of older people,” Hamers says. “I often get requests from other countries and other regions in the Netherlands looking for advice on setting up their own Living Lab. I always try to tell them it’s better to start with a partnership between two organisations. There’s a reason it took us 20 years to get to where we are now. As for the future, I’d like to expand across the Euregion ...”

By: Mark van der Linde (text) Harry Heuts (photography)