Many high-income Western countries have been implementing reablement programmes in older people’s homes and community settings since the early 2000s. These programmes aim to enhance ageing adults’ independence and self-sufficiency as well as their social engagement. However, international research indicates that reablement services tend to focus on improving older people’s physical functionality – often while overlooking social participation – and the evidence for a positive effect on overall health, quality of life, and longevity is not consistent. But could reablement improve functional outcomes while also enhancing social engagement? The authors suggest that this would require a paradigm shift and a commitment to move beyond certain professional protocols. Specifically, rather than a linear approach to knowledge translation and transfer that focuses on functional outcomes and economic benefits, reablement professionals should provide ‘unhelpful help’. This messy, ‘open-system’ approach is central in providing autonomy-compatible help that supports social engagement and improves quality of life.
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