Study aims: To discover the current level of nurse-led involvement in activity promotion for older people in primary care and to explore the knowledge and attitudes of primary care nurses about health benefits of activity promotion for older people.
Background: The importance of improving and maintaining activity levels in later life is well established. However, intervention studies show that the uptake of and adherence to physical activity programmes by older people are highly variable. The optimal approach to activity promotion for older people is not well understood. Although many activity promotion schemes and evaluations assume that specialist exercise trainers are needed, it remains unclear who is best placed to facilitate activity promotion for older people, and if this is something in which existing primary care practitioners (specifically nurses) could and should take a leading role.
Methods: This study surveyed all nurses and health visitors working in five primary care organizations in an inner city area. A semi-structured postal questionnaire asked about their knowledge and attitudes to the benefits of exercise in later life, their current levels of involvement in promoting physical activity with older people, and their personal activity levels.
Findings: The overall response rate was 54% (n=521). The responses of 391 district nurses and practice nurses are presented here. Nurses had the commitment and (depending on the focus of their work) different opportunities to promote physical activity with older patients. There were organizational and individual constraints on their ability to be involved in this aspect of health promotion work themselves, or to refer older people to local activity promotion schemes. Nurses did not have a structured approach when promoting physical activity with older people and had only a partial awareness of the limitations of their knowledge or skills when promoting activity with older people.
Conclusions: For promotion of physical activity by older people to be meaningfully incorporated into primary care nursing work there is a need to develop a more strategic approach that can optimize the opportunities and interest of primary care nurses and develop the knowledge and skills of the workforce in this area of nursing work.