I’ve chosen to review the quality of a piece of qualitative research titled “Strategies used by older women with intellectual disability to create and maintain their social networks: An exploratory qualitative study” by Katharine White and Lynette Mackenzie. I chose this because prior to starting my Masters I worked for a social inclusion charity with people with learning disabilities, so I was interested in whether the results were something that could have potentially influenced my work there.
This article is a research paper and not an opinion piece, which you can tell by the fact that it has an Abstract, collates data methodically from a subject group (Method section), analyses it (Data Analysis/ Results sections), and then draws conclusions based on the factual results (Discussion, Implications for Occupational Therapy sections).
The authors are Katharine White who is an Occupational Therapist with the Department of Aging, Disability & Care in Sydney, and Lynette Mackenzie who is an Associate Professor at the University of Sydney. They are both interested in researching the effects of aging on disabled individuals and this is plausible as Mackenzie is part of the ‘Aging and Health Research Team’ at the university and White currently specialises in aging and disability in her job role.
They have not declared any conflicts of interests and the research was not funded by anyone, but it was given ethical approval by the University of Sydney. It’s important to check these details because if the sponsor or researcher has a vested interest in the results of the study it’s possible they will be intentionally or unintentionally biased- for example the selection criteria for subjects may be manipulated in favour of one result, or only positive findings are published.
The article itself is published in the British Journal of Occupational Therapy, which is a paid access journal. The journal has a good reputation because it is the official peer-reviewed journal of the College of Occupational Therapists which is the professional body for UK occupational therapists. Its impact rating is 0.636 for 2014. The impact rating is a figure calculated annually by the JCR (Journal Citation Reports) to measure the relative importance of a journal via the percentage of published articles that are cited. For example, for 2014 the rating for the British Journal of Occupational Therapy was 0.636, and for the Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy it was 0.915. These aspects are also important to consider as you must take into account whether the article is fair and unbiased- is the journal sponsored or organised by a company or individual who has a vested interest in the results?
The article is trying to address a gap in knowledge about how learning disabled women’s social networks are affected as they age, because these women have longer life expectancies now and so are outliving their parents whereas before it was largely the case that parental support would exist for the duration of a learning disabled woman’s life. The research question is described as being how support staff can best support learning disabled women over 50 to maintain social networks as they age, and exploring how these women make an maintain their social networks.
The study sought to gain data to cover a gap in knowledge- that there is little information about social networks in older LD women because previously (generalised as a population) they had poorer health and so earlier deaths. Creating information on this topic will benefit patient outcomes because currently there is little on which to base interventions for older LD women, in creating it OTs could offer EBP to this ‘new’ patient population. This would have been relevant to patient outcomes in the charity where I worked because I could have used the findings to concentrate resources on the activities that would best promote social support for the women who were over 50 that we supported. However, considered in isolation this study had a relatively small sample size and I would also have to consider the impact of any cultural differences between the experiences of the women in Sydney who were studied and those I was supporting in the UK. It would be wise to see if other studies had been conducted with larger sample sizes or to review these results in conjunction with other similar studies.
The three components of Evidence Based Practice are research, clinical expertise and patient preference . Therefore conclusions from this research should be taken into account combined with my practitioner knowledge and importantly the individual women’s preferences. For example, although the research indicated that access to transport was one aspect that enabled greater social networks, if an individual did not wish to travel on public transport it would not be client-centred to press ahead with this strategy because the research suggested so and regardless of the patient preference- a different alternative or strategy should be sought.
Mackenzie L, White K. Strategies used by older women with intellectual disability to create and maintain their social networks: An exploratory qualitative study. British Journal of Occupational Therapy. October 2015 vol. 78 no. 10, pp 630-639.