Do Assessment Tools Shape Policy Preferences? Analysing Policy Framing Effects on Older Adult Service Users.

Dickson, Daniel*, Patrik Marier and Anne-Sophie Dubé* (2022).
Journal of Social Policy, 51(1): 114-131.


The concept of autonomy is essential in the practice and study of gerontology and in long-term care policies. For older adults with expanding care needs, scores from tightly specified assessment instruments, which aim to measure the autonomy of service users, usually determine access to social services. These instruments emphasise functional independence in the performance of activities of daily living. In an effort to broaden the understanding of autonomy into needs assessment practice, the province of Québec (Canada) added social and relational elements into the assessment tool. In the wake of these changes, this article studies the interaction between the use of assessment instruments and the extent to which they alter how older adults define their autonomy as service users. This matters since the conceptualisation of autonomy shapes the formulation of long-term care policy problems, influencing both the demand and supply of services and the types of services that ought to be prioritised by governments. Relying on focus groups, this study shows that the functional autonomy frame dominates problem definitions, while social/relational framings are marginal. This reflects the more authoritative weight of functional autonomy within the assessment tool and contributes to the biomedicalisation of aging.