Time-limited home-care reablement services (up to 12 weeks) for supporting older adults to live independently

Review question

We aimed to assess the effectiveness of time-limited reablement for older people (aged 65 years or more) in helping them to maintain or improve their independence. We included two studies in the review.


Services that help older people to remain living in their own home have obvious appeal for service-users, family members, care-providers and policy makers alike, especially if those services help to reduce pressure on hospitals or the need for long-term care, or both. Reablement (or restorative care) is one potentially useful service that helps an older person to continue living at home. The service is typically provided by a team of health/social care professionals and care-workers who work with an older person to restore their independence. The service is time-limited (usually six to 12 weeks) and normally involves multiple visits to a person's home. It sets out to achieve goals set by the older person, and help them to regain ability to complete everyday tasks and activities.

Study characteristics

The evidence is current to April 2015. The review included two studies, one each from Australia (750 participants) and Norway (61 participants). In both studies, half of the participants received a reablement-based home-care package and half usual home-care provision.

Key results

The very low quality evidence for all of the results means that we are uncertain about the effects of reablement when compared with usual care.

Reablement may help some older adults to improve their abilities to engage in everyday activities (functional status) to a small degree, but may make little or no difference to death rates or admissions to hospital. The findings mean we are also uncertain whether reablement affects quality of life or living arrangements. Reablement may lead to a small decrease in numbers of people needing higher levels of personal care, and may decrease care costs to a small degree, but neither study reported satisfaction of those using the reablement service.

Quality of the evidence

While there may be some small positive effects of reablement, the evidence was very low quality, meaning that we are very uncertain about how large or important these effects may be. There is a need for more studies to be conducted in a range of countries and situations before the effectiveness and safety of reablement can be determined with certainty.

Authors' conclusions: 

There is considerable uncertainty regarding the effects of reablement as the evidence was of very low quality according to our GRADE ratings. Therefore, the effectiveness of reablement services cannot be supported or refuted until more robust evidence becomes available. There is an urgent need for high quality trials across different health and social care systems due to the increasingly high profile of reablement services in policy and practice in several countries.

Read the full abstract...

Reablement, also known as restorative care, is one possible approach to home-care services for older adults at risk of functional decline. Unlike traditional home-care services, reablement is frequently time-limited (usually six to 12 weeks) and aims to maximise independence by offering an intensive multidisciplinary, person-centred and goal-directed intervention.


To assess the effects of time-limited home-care reablement services (up to 12 weeks) for maintaining and improving the functional independence of older adults (aged 65 years or more) when compared to usual home-care or wait-list control group.

Search strategy: 

We searched the following databases with no language restrictions during April to June 2015: the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL); MEDLINE (OvidSP); Embase (OvidSP); PsycINFO (OvidSP); ERIC; Sociological Abstracts; ProQuest Dissertations and Theses; CINAHL (EBSCOhost); SIGLE (OpenGrey); AgeLine and Social Care Online. We also searched the reference lists of relevant studies and reviews as well as contacting authors in the field.

Selection criteria: 

We included randomised controlled trials (RCTs), cluster randomised or quasi-randomised trials of time-limited reablement services for older adults (aged 65 years or more) delivered in their home; and incorporated a usual home-care or wait-list control group.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two authors independently assessed studies for inclusion, extracted data, assessed the risk of bias of individual studies and considered quality of the evidence using GRADE. We contacted study authors for additional information where needed.

Main results: 

Two studies, comparing reablement with usual home-care services with 811 participants, met our eligibility criteria for inclusion; we also identified three potentially eligible studies, but findings were not yet available. One included study was conducted in Western Australia with 750 participants (mean age 82.29 years). The second study was conducted in Norway (61 participants; mean age 79 years).

We are very uncertain as to the effects of reablement compared with usual care as the evidence was of very low quality for all of the outcomes reported. The main findings were as follows.

Functional status: very low quality evidence suggested that reablement may be slightly more effective than usual care in improving function at nine to 12 months (lower scores reflect greater independence; standardised mean difference (SMD) -0.30; 95% confidence interval (CI) -0.53 to -0.06; 2 studies with 249 participants).

Adverse events: reablement may make little or no difference to mortality at 12 months' follow-up (RR 0.97; 95% CI 0.74 to 1.29; 2 studies with 811 participants) or rates of unplanned hospital admission at 24 months (RR 0.94; 95% CI 0.85 to 1.03; 1 study with 750 participants).

The very low quality evidence also means we are uncertain whether reablement may influence quality of life (SMD -0.23; 95% CI -0.48 to 0.02; 2 trials with 249 participants) or living arrangements (RR 0.92, 95% CI 0.62 to 1.34; 1 study with 750 participants) at time points up to 12 months. People receiving reablement may be slightly less likely to have been approved for a higher level of personal care than people receiving usual care over the 24 months' follow-up (RR 0.87; 95% CI 0.77 to 0.98; 1 trial, 750 participants). Similarly, although there may be a small reduction in total aggregated home and healthcare costs over the 24-month follow-up (reablement: AUD 19,888; usual care: AUD 22,757; 1 trial with 750 participants), we are uncertain about the size and importance of these effects as the results were based on very low quality evidence.

Neither study reported user satisfaction with the service.