Background: It is a UK policy requirement to involve patients and the public in health research as active partners.
Objective: We reviewed published reports of studies which involved older people in commissioning, prioritizng, designing, conducting or disseminating research. Search strategy and selection criteria: systematic searches of databases (PubMed, SCI-EXPANDED, SSCI, A&HCI, ASSIA, Embase, CINAHL and Medline) for English language studies published between 1995 and 2005 which had involved older people as partners n the research process as opposed to research subjects. Articles were reviewed by two authors using a standardised matrix for data extraction.
Results: Thirty studies were included and classified according to the stage in the research process in which older people were involved. Barriers to involving older people were: cultural divisions, language barriers, research skills capacity, ill health, time and resources. Four of the studies had been formally evaluated to identify the impact of involvement. Evaluation focussed on the impact on participants rather than on impact on research processes and outcomes. Benefits to participants included: increased knowledge, awareness and confidence, meeting others in similar situations, empowering older people to become active in their community regarding decisions/policies which affect them.
Conclusions: Factors hindering the involvement of older people in research were the same as reported factors hindering involvement of younger people, suggesting that age, per se, is not a barrier. To demonstrate the impact of user involvement on research quality, the definition of user involvement requires clarification, and systematic evaluation of research involving older people needs to be developed.