When assessing nursing home resident preferences, remember that 'it depends,' researchers say

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Nursing home residents' preferences depend on a variety of shifting factors, so caregivers should frequently assess preferences and seek to understand what is behind them, according to recently published research.

The study challenges prior research, which has shown “short-term reliability” in residents' preferences, the authors noted. Based on interviews with 39 cognitively capable residents, they concluded that preferences are variable, and “it depends” is an important phrase for nursing home caregivers to keep in mind.

Specifically, preferences tend to change in importance depending on four dynamic factors, the researchers determined. These are “within-person” factors (such as functional ability), facility environment (changes in schedule), social environment (type of interactions) and global environment (weather).

For instance, a resident might not have a strong preference for doing group activities, unless the activity is with certain people or is a certain kind of activity, the researchers stated. That is, “the importance ‘depends on' who is involved,” they wrote. 

“Greater consideration of these dependencies will be necessary to match preferences with care consistently to yield the greatest return on well-being,” the authors stated.

Their findings suggest that a larger study might reveal additional factors affecting preferences, the investigators noted. Further research might also focus on the phenomenon they observed of residents who adjust their preferences to what they perceive as possible in a facility, they proposed.

The researchers were affiliated with the Polisher Research Institute at the Madlyn and Leonard Abramson Center for Jewish Life in Pennsylvania, and the Veterans Affairs Western New York Health Care System. Findings appear in The Gerontologist.

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