Voice of the Users: Valuing Visitors to Care Homes

Following interviews with visitors to care homes, we wondered how the people working in care homes view care home visitors.

Marianne has been interviewing staff in two Dundee care homes and one in England, talking to workers about the role of visitors in care homes. All of the staff interviewed (12) were universal in their opinions that visitors play a significant role in the lives of all of the residents in a care home. They can also have a positive effect on the work of the care home especially when they visit regularly and consequently develop relationships with other residents and with the staff.  

Visitors are important to care home residents because they offer a lifeline to the outside world and bring a sense of homeliness to the residents. They have expert and intimate knowledge about the resident’s identity and can share aspects of of their resident’s history, personality, tastes and interests which enable the staff of the care home to grow to know the whole personality of each resident.  For care workers, visitors can be a bridge to knowing the person behind the resident: 

“People have got different ways of communicating. Somebody could be really, how could I put it, somebody could be very vocal and outgoing and all the rest of it and you react differently to that person than you would with someone who is really reserved in themselves. There are different levels of communication that you establish through talking with families.” [BES06]

Visitors can break up the monotony of a potentially restricted way of life and play an active role in recreating moments of normal life; sometimes through particular events and outings but mostly through ordinary routines, like putting the kettle on for a cup of tea, and stopping for a chat. They can also serve as advocates for care, in systems that often overburden the resources of staff.

Staff commented on the transformative effect visitors can have on a resident in both their sociability and behaviour when they come in, this is true for friends as well as family describing how visitors can lift a person’s spirits. One worker talked about a younger woman in her forties with early onset dementia and no verbal communication:

“When her husband comes in you can see her whole face lighting up. Oh yes, she knows who he is. She must give him a ticking off as well because he says: “She’s not speaking to me.”  She’s got up and went away because she was grumpy with him.  . . .  She doesn’t speak.” [BES03]

The relationship between visitors and care homes is not always explicit in expectations and understanding of behaviour and the 'rules of engagement' on both sides. Visitors are conscious of entering a working environment as well as a home environment. We know that visitors have expressed slight trepidation when navigating a way to engage naturally in this dual environment. While care home workers have a task driven schedule that leaves little time or space to engage fully with visitors and in reality limited time for one to one activities with residents.

BESiDE are interested in looking at ways in which technology might help to bridge this gap and create a route to make the most of all that visitors have to offer while at the same time improving the information to support care workers in their relationships with residents and visitors. 

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