Research Projects

Optimising quality of sleep among older people in the community and care homes

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This four year Collaborative Research Project was funded under the New Dynamics of Ageing Initiative by the five UK Research Councils (AHRC, BBSRC, EPSRC, ESRC and MRC).

What was needed

We participated in SomnIA, a research study that was part of the New Dynamics of Ageing (NDA) cross-council research programme.

Technological innovations have the potential to improve quality of sleep for older people. Over recent years, assistive technology in the home has used sensors to monitor people’s behaviour and then provide support based on the insights gained.

The team wanted to understand the meanings and determinants of poor quality sleep among older people in the community and in residential settings.

Who did it benefit

The SomnIA research demonstrated that such support can be of assistance during the night, especially for care home residents.

Design and development

We worked to develop cost-effective approaches to non-pharmacological self-management of sleep problems among older people with chronic disease.

As part of this, we wanted to evaluate their acceptability to users and assess their cost-effectiveness.

We also looked to develop web-based user-friendly information and advice for older people with sleep problems.

What we found

Through close involvement with older users and care staff, three ideas were developed as prototypes which could potentially have a real impact on improving sleep quality in care homes:

Nightlight tray
This enables residents to satisfy their needs during the night by storing and then accessing a drink, glasses, care alarm, etc. It automatically illuminates on contact and thereby enables lower night-time light levels to be used in the room.

Musical pillow
Plays sounds through the pillow such as gentle music, radio or TV, or a recorded voice. The sound fades away after a set time but can be simply turned on and off by the resident.

Automatic lighting
Provides lighting both for the resident when they need it and for care staff when coming to a room at night. Its design provides good background lighting without disturbing sleeping residents.

The technologies were well received by both care home residents and care staff. They are not expensive but have real potential to support quality sleep. For older people in the community the use of the musical pillow was most promising.