What a 24-Year-Old Taught Me about the Future of Applied Research

Robyn's Read | January 10, 2016

Annual reports are great tools for gauging an organization’s progress – but they have their limitations. But it’s even better to witness firsthand how those achievements are making a real difference in the attitudes and practices of people who have a stake in what you’re trying to accomplish.

Annual reports are great tools for gauging an organization’s progress -- but they have their limitations.

Sure, it’s a pleasure to see your achievements described in an impressive annual document, especially when you’ve had a standout year, like the LeadingAge Center for Applied Research (CFAR) did in 2015.

But it’s even better to witness firsthand how those achievements are making a real difference in the attitudes and practices of people who have a stake in what you’re trying to accomplish.

I learned this truth in November, when 2 encounters convinced me that providers and researchers alike are really starting to “get” what CFAR is all about.

A Nurse Manager Gets It

Grace McDonald gets what we’re all about.

The 24-year-old nurse manager at Bethesda Meadow in Ellisville, MO, was the 2015 winner of the Joan Anne McHugh Award for Leadership in Long-Term Services and Supports Nursing, which CFAR administers with support from the McHugh family.

After receiving her award at November’s Leading Annual Meeting, Grace outlined the 3 steps she routinely follows when implementing new programs in the neighborhood for residents with dementia that she manages at Bethesda Meadow:

  1. She conducts a literature review to identify evidence-based programs that address the challenge she’s facing. 
  2. She presents her supervisor with a written proposal for the program she’d like to launch. Like a college paper, the proposal includes a lengthy list of applicable research citations. 
  3. Finally, Grace identifies how she’ll adapt her chosen program so it will work at Bethesda Meadow. 

This process isn’t just an academic exercise for Grace. It’s producing great results. For example, evidence-based practices helped cut psychotropic drug use in half during Grace’s first year managing the dementia care neighborhood.

Grace’s reliance on research warms my heart for obvious reasons.

But it also gives me great hope that CFAR is starting to make a difference in how LeadingAge members go about their work.

And it makes me proud that the McHugh Award recognized a rising nurse leader like Grace, who represents our field’s next generation of professionals.

Distinguished Researchers Get It

Academic researchers are also starting to get what CFAR is all about.

I learned this after watching several members of CFAR’s staff present findings from their applied research projects during November’s Annual Scientific Meeting of the Gerontological Society of America (GSA).

It’s a big deal to be invited to present your work at GSA. But it was an even bigger deal to see our work so warmly embraced by a very distinguished group of researchers.

Our presentations at GSA covered a number of critical issues facing our field:

  • Applied research: We worked with the International Association of Homes and Services for the Ageing (IAHSA) to host a daylong symposium exploring how researchers can work with providers of aging services to develop and test evidence-based practices that can be applied to residential care settings. 
  • Housing plus services: We released findings from our most recent study of housing plus services models. Alisha Sanders, managing director of the LeadingAge Center for Housing Plus Services, presented the research, which shows that basing a service coordinator in an affordable senior housing property reduced by 18% the odds of having a hospital admission among residents. 
  • Housing and health partnerships: On a related note, I was invited to present an overview of housing and health partnerships during a Presidential Symposium organized by the chair of GSA’s applied research section. This is a very promising sign that the housing plus services model, which CFAR has studied for a decade, is now part of the GSA policy agenda.
  • Culture Change: Linda Hermer, CFAR’s managing director of research and senior research scientist, presented the preliminary results of her evaluation of a Medicaid pay-for-performance incentive program designed to facilitate the adoption of culture change in Kansas nursing homes. You’ll be hearing much more about this important project in the coming months.
  • Workforce: It was especially gratifying to have the opportunity to shine a spotlight on strategies to strengthen the long-term care workforce, which CFAR has studied for many years. We shared insights about the importance, of creating a healthy workplace, the future of family caregiving, and the factors influencing job satisfaction and intent to leave among home health workers. 

What Did We Accomplish?

All of these successes are good news for CFAR. But they’re even better news for LeadingAge members.

By helping academic researchers recognize the value of conducting applied research, we’re hoping to expand the evidence base that LeadingAge members can use to design and implement high-quality programs for residents and clients.

And by encouraging LeadingAge members like Bethesda Meadow to rely on applied research, we’re hoping to improve the services and supports available to older Americans.

CFAR has been working for many years to conduct research that advances policy and practice in the field of aging services.

We made great progress on this front during 2015.

And we’re planning to involve even more researchers and providers in our work during 2016.

Will you join us?