Visitors' experiences of Care Homes

Visitors have their own unique history and relationship with their resident. They understand the resident’s identity and personality better than anyone and visiting brings a sense of normality adding to the home-like element of care homes. We interviewed 14 care home visitors (11 women and 3 men, aged 65 to 83) about their experience of care home visiting. 8 of the visitors were relatives, 5 were friends and 1 was a volunteer visitor. Overall, they had experience of visiting 30 care homes.

We asked them about their experience of the different care home environments and how it supported or inhibited their visiting experience.

Seating

Seating and the provision of visiting spaces were common issues for all interviewees. They were concerned about the quality, quantity, arrangement, location, variety & flexibility of seating. Many noted that it was the main ‘activity’ in care homes, “well they are just sort of ... sitting aren’t they?” arguing that seating should be a high priority. Popular homes had mixed types of seating arranged in small groupings, similar to hotels or large pub lounges.  Effective communication during the visit was important and a singular function of most visits. Such seating arrangements encouraged social interaction but also allowed for feelings of privacy within small groups or couples.  Visitors were positive when they could wheel their relative to a different room with different layouts such as a second sitting room, a conservatory or outside. Where residents with low mobility sat in static seating and visitors had to ask for help to move them, visitors reported feeling unhappy and uncomfortable. They were reluctant to add more work to busy care staff.  Many residents and some of the visitors had some level of hearing loss and bad acoustics impeded communication, such as loud T.V., hard flooring or metal chair legs.

Location

Location had an impact on their ability to visit. Getting to the home, the availability of public transport, parking, road crossings, gradients and inclines all impacted on ability to visit and number of visits.  A local care home allowed for more natural visits and ‘trips’ out, fitting more easily into the daily routines of visitor and resident.

Corridors

The width, length and complexity of care home corridors affected visiting experiences. The width of corridors impeded wheelchair controls or scraped the knuckles of electric wheelchair users. The number, width, weight and flexibility of doors were troublesome to visitors using walking aids, carrying anything or in wheelchairs. Single hinged doors affected the independence of movement, whilst the weight of doors impeded frail visitors.

Lighting

Good natural light was highlighted as uplifting. Many visitors reported on the aesthetic value of nice lighting and fittings. The ability to see out, open and close windows and manage brightness, all created positive feelings.  Any view, however mundane, played a part in the quality of the visitor’s experience. If they were able to ‘people watch’ or comment on the seasons added to enabling a natural conversational exchange with their resident.

Privacy and Domesticity

Access to residents without having to pass through other spaces was reported as a bonus, allowing for privacy and visits that could be timed to suit visitor and resident. When visitors had to pass through common spaces they felt embarrassed, it felt ‘rude’ and like “walking through someone’s living room”. They felt uncomfortable passing people without visitors, whom they perceived to be isolated. Access to quiet and/or private space was very important. The more natural and reminiscent of ordinary life the room was, the more relaxed the visit was likely to be. Food and drink were quoted as being a common hook to talk about and socialise around.

External Environment

The external environment of the care home was important even when the visitor and resident couldn’t or didn’t go outside. ‘People watching’ and just “being able to open a door and get a breather” were psychologically important for people.

Researchers