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31 October 2012 | PR 12/187

Lives of spinal cord injury victims at risk in care homes, says Loughborough research

Brett Smith

Dr Brett Smith.

Living in a care home has a devastating impact on the lives of people paralysed by spinal cord injury, according to research by Loughborough University academic Dr Brett Smith.

Dr Smith, from the University's School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences, found that lives are put at risk by unsuitable care and facilities, and by suicidal feelings due to poor quality of life.

Dr Smith was commissioned by the spinal injury charity Aspire to examine the effect of the common practice of forcing people with spinal cord injury to live in care homes for the elderly.

An expert in in disability, health and physical activity, Dr Smith said: “The findings of this study are hugely important. It is the first time that anyone has looked into the damage done by the common practice of housing spinal injured people in care homes.

“This research has really opened my eyes and I hope it will start to make people sit up and take notice. The lack of accessible housing provision is essentially ruining lives.”

Research findings detail the risks to physical health such as pressure sores, infections and even broken bones, whilst the psychological risks include chronic depression, self harm and suicidal thoughts. 

The consequences of housing a spinal injured person in a care home are so destructive that it is unacceptable for public policy to continue to allow this as an option.

Every eight hours someone is paralysed by a spinal cord injury and told that they will never walk again. Twenty per cent of these people will be discharged from hospital into a care home, regardless of their age, because they do not have housing in the community that meets their new needs.

The study by Dr Smith and his team involved extensive interviews with 20 spinal injured people who are living or who have lived in care homes.

Research findings clearly show that care homes are completely inappropriate places to house spinal injured people, and yet some people remain in care homes for periods of up to three years or more.

People in this situation experience a diminished quality of life due to their lack of independence, damage to relationships, isolation and boredom. Furthermore, lack of specialist knowledge among care home staff and inadequate facilities mean that people’s physical health needs are often not met, resulting in further injury, pain and illness.

A research participant said: “Staff tried transferring me with a slideboard, but they didn’t do it properly. Bang. I ended on the floor, my arm broken. They mean well often, but they don’t know how to look after people with a spinal injury. And this is just the half of it. I’ve even been given wrong medication. I could have died.”

Another participant said:  “All my independence has gone since living in here. This place has taken it away. My quality of life as a result has suffered immensely. I’ve no quality of life now, and feel like I’m not even a human being anymore.”

Brian Carlin, Chief Executive of Aspire, said: “All too often, people with spinal cord injury find themselves discharged to somewhere totally unsuitable and, as this study confirms, care homes are often the very worst option for someone recovering from a traumatic spinal injury.

“At Aspire, we do everything we can to support spinal injured people to live independent lives. For someone living in a care home, this is near impossible to achieve.

“As a country, we’re still celebrating the fantastic success of GB’s Paralympians this summer. How many of them would have had the opportunity to compete if they’d spent months or years confined to a room in a care home?

“Thousands of people are being robbed of the basic ability to get on with their lives. It’s vitally important that public policy be reviewed on this issue.”

The Government is aiming to increase employment rates among disabled people, and most disabled people would like to be in work.

However, research participants reported that care home staff are regularly not able to help them out of bed until midday, and in some cases people were left in bed all day if the home was short staffed.

If the Government continues to allow people with spinal cord injury to be housed in care homes, they are removing their ability to gain employment.


For all media enquiries contact:

Chris Goddard
Public Relations Office
Loughborough University
T: 01509 223491
E: C.J.Goddard@lboro.ac.uk 

Amy Wackett
Communications Manager
T: 020 8420 8957
E: amy.wackett@aspire.org.uk

Notes for editors:

  1. Understanding the Health and Wellbeing of Spinal Injured Adults in a Care Home is a research report by Dr Brett Smith BA (Leeds) MSc (Exeter) PhD (Exeter) , Senior Lecturer at the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences at Loughborough University, and Nick Caddick, Research Assistant.
  2. The study employed a qualitative methodology. In-depth interviews were systematically conducted with 20 people across the UK. The mean age was 37. Each person lived in a care home for between 1 and 3 years. Fourteen participants still lived in a care home, whilst six had recently left. The sample of people provided information on the process of living in a care home and how over time living in a care home impacts on health and wellbeing. Each interview lasted between 2 and 5 hours and revolved around investigating ‘what is the impact of living in care home on spinal cord injured people’s lives?’ The data systematically collected was rigorously analysed using a thematic analysis. The validity of the findings was established through numerous means, including an audit trail, independent researchers assessing the results, and member checking.
  3. Aspire provides practical help to people who have been paralysed by spinal cord injuries.  For more information, visit www.aspire.org.uk. Aspire is Registered Charity Number 1075317
  4. Every eight hours, someone is paralysed by a spinal cord injury (this relates to UK spinal injuries).
  5. Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

    It was awarded the coveted Sunday Times University of the Year 2008-09 title, and is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in national newspaper league tables. In the 2011 National Student Survey, Loughborough was voted one of the top universities in the UK, and has topped the Times Higher Education league for the Best Student Experience in England every year since the poll's inception in 2006. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, the University has been awarded six Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

    Loughborough is also the UK’s premier university for sport. It has perhaps the best integrated sports development environment in the world and is home to some of the country’s leading coaches, sports scientists and support staff. It also has the country’s largest concentration of world-class training facilities across a wide range of sports.

    It is a member of the 1994 Group of 19 leading research-intensive universities. The Group was established in 1994 to promote excellence in university research and teaching. Each member undertakes diverse and high-quality research, while ensuring excellent levels of teaching and student experience.

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