Case Study

Improving the quality of long-term care: the Living Lab in the Netherlands

Long-Term Care

The Living Lab in Ageing and Long-Term Care is a collaboration between long-term care facilities and universities to better integrate science into long-term care. 

The focus: Designed to fill a void in both policymaking and research into long-term care, the lab serves as a central body to organize and implement research on reducing physical restraints, improving physical activity and increasing independence. The lab unites nursing home administrators, clinicians, teaching staff at universities and family caregivers, among others, to align care holistically.   

How it works: This innovation employs a participatory and multidisciplinary research design. Scientific researchers or employees of a long-term care facility serve as "linking pins," or scientific and practice-based co-ordinators, throughout this process. They unite university research with training care providers and eventual in-practice deployment of research findings. The linking pins work together to pay special attention to the needs of the older individuals and their families, ensuring that the research and training are the most beneficial for these stakeholders. The research can focus on anything from developing an instrument to measure quality of care to the involuntary treatment of older people with cognitive impairments. 

Enabling environment: The Living Lab was created in 1988 in the Netherlands as a collaboration between a nursing home and Maastricht University. Each partner funded and directed its respective domain. The lab was developed as an intentionally collaborative program, and what began as a partnership between a healthcare institution and a university has evolved into a collaboration among multiple care organizations, universities and technical schools, and a variety of implementing partners. The institutional context was particularly important in the creation of the Living Lab. Research institutions and long-term care facilities agreed on the need for more scientific research on older adults and ways of translating that research into meaningful action in care homes—to create as much impact as possible with limited research resources.

Impact: The research was and is used to change care norms to reflect the priorities of families and improve long-term care for the future. The lab has expanded to institutions across the Netherlands, including 110 long-term care facilities and programs that offer home care, totaling 30,000 clients and 15,000 staff across the country, as well as other European countries such as Portugal and the UK. The Netherlands government has recognized the value of the lab and awarded funding in 2018, after the lab’s decades of producing evidence-based best practices. Funding has continued to expand from external competitions (such as EU grants) and partner organizations from the private sector, such as medical device research companies that are funding specialized projects they deem high priority. 

Sources Include

Sources include:

Verbeek H, Zwakhalen S, Schols J, et al. The living lab in ageing and long-term care: a sustainable model for translational research improving quality of life, quality of care and quality of work. The journal of nutrition, health & aging. 2020;24(1):43-7.

EIU communication with Dr. Judith Urlings. March 2021.