Research to deliver change with Chris Bamford.
At Guild Living, we’re guided by the work of leading academics from around the world. Our groundbreaking, research-led wellness programmes will help our Members live to their fullest potential. As part of this, we are currently funding academic research with the University of Bath. We believe that knowledge should be for all, so we are making the research findings available to all for free.
To find out more about how our groundbreaking research will deliver change, we spoke to Chris Bamford, Care Operations Director at Guild Living.
Why is research important to Guild Living?
Firstly, there are so many reported approaches to health and wellbeing out there. You hear a lot of talk about ‘if you do this it will keep you young’, and ‘if you do that it will prevent you ageing’. So, it’s hugely important that we develop solutions, programmes and operations that are really underpinned by solid research.
There are also lots of new initiatives – for challenges like dementia or cognitive impairment – that may be of huge benefit. It’s important that we look to fully understand those too, to keep on top of the latest developments.
And, ultimately, some research might have been validated, but some time ago. We’re now in a very different landscape from where we were 15-20 years ago. So, if we can continue to identify better ways to do things, then that seems like a really good reason to continue researching.
What are some of the research projects Guild Living has been working on recently?
Part of our initial research was into the existing later living market, which gave us a good understanding of our audience. We saw that there is a real mix of circumstances. From the more optimistic future Member who is always looking for new challenges, to those who are realistic about their future needs, to the person that is in crisis now. This helps us understand why the products currently offered in the market may not be right, and to develop something that better caters for all.
In addition, our main piece of research, a groundbreaking study into loneliness, is being carried out with the University of Bath. We have a great team: Gerontology Professor Malcolm Johnson, Professor of Health Psychology, Julie Barnett, Dr Sam Carr, and many others in Australia. It’s probably one of the most interesting things I’ve ever done in my work. Our study explores the difference between emotional and social loneliness, and really understanding the drivers behind them. We’re now looking at what solutions could support people in these situations.
Why has Guild Living decided to begin with a research study on loneliness and isolation for older people?
A lot of people are calling loneliness an epidemic, but I think it’s an area that a lot of people don’t fully understand. The numbers are staggering; nearly 4.5 million over-65s in the UK are said to be chronically lonely. According to Age UK, 225,000 older people often go for a week without speaking to anyone. Think about that across the wider world; support structures, culture, and family connections may differ but, fundamentally, people are facing the same challenges everywhere. This is what we mean by ‘social isolation’.
Emotional isolation is different. We all need those real bonds, where you feel you can tell that friend, family member, or loved one anything. As we get older and time ticks away, many of us find we have fewer and fewer people to confide in, and that’s what brings about a real sense of emotional loneliness. If you’ve got nobody to talk to, and then you see an endpoint approaching, that can become hugely, hugely damaging to your health. It can be comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day; the impact on your eating, sleep, your cognition, and wider depression takes a big toll.
The reason why we looked at loneliness in the first place was a recognition of the scale of the problem. We know our population is ageing, so loneliness will only become more of a problem in the future. It’s a really big challenge that, hopefully, the research will go some way to help.
How do you plan to use the research findings from the study on loneliness and isolation?
We plan to use it in a few ways. The first is to publish the findings, and we are in the process of putting them into three different ageing-related journals, so it may be of wider benefit. The challenge is so big, no one company or institution can resolve it on its own – so let’s take the findings forward together to improve the lives of older people.
Though publishing is a big step, it’s also about how you translate those findings into actions. While there’s no one silver bullet, there are a number of things that typically lead people down the path to feeling more detached. Grief, the loss of a role or purpose, family moving away, pain or trauma that date back to earlier years.
We’re looking at how we help future Members feel less lonely. How do we help someone who’s really lost that sense of purpose, or feel they’re in decline? So, in terms of how we’re using those findings, it’s firstly publishing and making them available to the wider world, then, once we’re up and running, we can then start to use the findings in solutions within Guild Living communities.
Why did Guild Living decide to work with the University of Bath?
Professor Malcolm Johnson starred in a television program called ‘Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds’, a Channel 4 documentary that brought together retirement home residents and pre-schoolers to see how they interact to affect each other’s health, happiness and understanding.
The story goes that Michael and Eugene, Guild Living founders, were sitting in their apartment one day and watching this, and they looked at each other in a eureka moment…. “He’s the guy we need!”. Eugene just dropped an email straight away and said, “We need to have a conversation”. From there, Malcolm then introduced us to the wider Bath University team, who really believed in the power of the research. So, it all started with Michael and Eugene watching television!
Does Guild Living have plans to do any other research projects soon?
Yes, we do. I got introduced to a company that is studying the human genome. While genomics can be quite controversial, one of the biggest challenges older people and the NHS face is ‘polypharmacy’, when people are prescribed multiple medications. It might be high blood pressure, cholesterol levels, or pain management – but all these medications typically have a knock-on effect. For instance, some pain medication may cause your tummy to be slightly upset, and it doesn’t do wonders for your digestion. People are then prescribed another medication to counteract that medication’s side effects – and can end up on a lot of medication.
The other challenge with medications is there’s new evidence to show that not all medications work with every human genome. You and I could take the same drug and it might have a different impact on you than it would on me.
The study would look at “pharmacogenomics”, which is the study of the role of the genome in drug response. We would study people that have got better on medications, and look at how that works with their genomic makeup. Personally, I think this could be amazing and make such a difference to how we use and prescribe medications. The research could also help in our communities too, as we would look to bring in specialist pharmacists, who know the Member and their medication and can have informed conversations around their plan of support. If we can build pharmacogenomics into that, it will be completely revolutionary.
Any final comments?
Malcolm is actually putting together a ‘reference guide’ for all the challenges that we believe that people will face when they age. That will relate to everything from circulatory to genetic conditions, from rheumatoid to degenerative conditions, and so on. There’s a whole list of around 70 or 80 things. My intention is to provide that list to our teams, and they can understand and better support people. It will also help to identify where research is out of date and link back to the research that backs up that support proposition.
As a very people-focused community, it all comes down to how we look after our Members. All the research is great, but fundamentally it comes down to the people on the floor that are going to implement it. For me, that remains the most important thing with how we use research.
To find out more about Guild Living’s commitments to research and making the findings available to all, click here.