Toward Person-Centered Care

photo of Tonya Roberts working with an older adult in his home

In nursing homes, residents wake at the same time every day. They eat when meals are served. They bathe and dress when the CNA arrives to help.

“Historically, long-term care is institutional, medically driven, and task-focused care,” says Dr. Tonya Roberts, RN, PhD, an assistant professor in the UW–Madison School of Nursing. “Care is organized around the task so that staff can be efficient.”

Roberts says the kind of care that requires individuals to wake, eat, bathe or dress on an rigid schedule robs them of choices and independence and greatly erodes quality of life. A better model, she believes, is person-centered care, which organizes care around the individual rather than the task. Person-centered care, she says, also allows for more unstructured activity, giving residents greater opportunity to interact with one another and form relationships—and these connections also promote quality of life.

In her research, Roberts is studying what nursing-home residents want and need, and she is looking to identify ways to restructure long-term care—financially, culturally and philosophically—to focus on residents’ preferences. “My goal is to make long-term care services and supports provide the resources that residents need to live and thrive rather than wait and die,” she says.

“My goals are to bring that human aspect forward. The people in nursing homes are valuable individuals who deserve dignity, respect and care. They’ve had triumphs and tragedies and achievements and a lifetime of work, meaning and purpose. If we can keep that at the forefront of our minds, it would make a tremendous difference.”