The potential of social prescribing in supporting the health and wellbeing of people diagnosed with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)
This project will help us to understand how referral by healthcare professionals to community support such as befriending or volunteering groups (“social prescribing”) might help people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). The project will engage directly with people with MCI to identify the support they find important and beneficial, and will lay the groundwork for future research in this currently neglected area.
Part of our Improving Health and Social Care research theme
Currently, there is no clinical pathway (standardized plan for treatment and support based on research evidence) for people with a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Clinicians also have little time and few resources to provide support. But the right support could help people to live well and prevent health problems from getting worse.
Social prescribing (also sometimes called ‘community referral’) allows healthcare professionals to link patients to a wide range of local, non-clinical services. Through social prescribing, there is an opportunity for patients with MCI to connect with local groups, organisations, charities or activities that may support their health or wellbeing. Examples might include gardening, volunteering, financial advice, group learning, befriending services, cookery and healthy eating advice, and a range of sports or physical activities.
However, social prescribing is relatively new, and there has been little research on the role of social prescribing specifically for people living with MCI.
Through this engagement project we aim to understand people’s needs and priorities following a diagnosis of MCI, and if social prescribing could help them maintain or improve their health and wellbeing.
We will run a series of workshops (either in person or online) to explore these questions:
- What support do patients get at the point of diagnosis of MCI?
- What additional support might be helpful but is not currently being offered (what is missing)?
- Is there a role for social prescribing in supporting MCI patients following diagnosis?
In group discussions, creative storytelling methods will be used to capture the experiences and perspectives of patients. These will be shared with memory clinic clinicians, GPs, and social prescribing link workers as short films or other media forms suggested in the workshops. We will prompt health professionals to explore their thoughts on the patients’ stories and to add their views on unmet needs and the role of social prescribing for MCI.
How we are involving patients and the public
The idea for this project came from a sandpit event in March 2020 involving people with experience of MCI and a range of researchers, health professionals, and community-based service providers. Click here to read more about this foundational work.
We held a follow-up event in September 2020 where the same people were invited to develop this project proposal, and in May 2021 we received funding from the NIHR ARC OxTV and Oxford Academic Health Partners to carry it out.
The project itself is focused on patient engagement, and public participants will be invited throughout the project to co-create the project outputs and share them with public and professional audiences.
How we are planning to implement the research outputs
Through our project outputs we will communicate how social prescribing is perceived by MCI patients and health professionals who support them: do they know what social prescribing is? Do they think it could be beneficial for people affected by MCI? Would they make use of it if referred?
If we identify a potential role for social prescribing following a diagnosis of MCI, then we will develop a feasibility study (smaller-scale research to find out if a larger study would be practical or possible) into how social prescribing might work within or alongside existing memory services. In this next phase of research we would explore:
1) How to engage health professionals and people with MCI in social prescribing
a) When is the best time to introduce social prescribing to this patient group?
b) Which professionals are best to introduce it?
2) How to optimise referral to social prescribing for people with MCI
a) What organisational links would need to be established for consistent referral (e.g. between memory clinics and GP practices)?
b) What challenges (e.g. competing demands for health professionals’ time) would need to be addressed for social prescribing to be routinely referred?
Our findings will be shared with stakeholders in memory clinics and brain health centres, GPs, Primary Care Networks, Clinical Commissioning Groups, and relevant third sector organisations.
Project end date
- to understand the unmet needs and priorities of patients with MCI in relation to their health and wellbeing
- to inform the development of a feasibility study into the implementation of social prescribing to support people with MCI
- A report detailing the experiences and perspectives of patients with MCI
- Visual representations of patients’ stories, for example through short films, to be shared with health professionals and wider audiences
- Improved understanding of the experiences and perspectives of patient with MCI shared with key stakeholders.
- Guidance on the design and key factors important for developing a more comprehensive scientific study of how social prescribing might help people with MCI.