People living in care homes appreciate keeping in touch with their family and friends. It is very important for anyone’s welfare that they feel connected to wider society, and to a continued circle of friends and relations.
Recent guidance drawn up by the Care Inspectorate, Life Changes Trust, Scottish Care and Abbeyfield here in Scotland is therefore very useful to everyone involved in providing or receiving care. It has been published as ‘Come on in – Staying connected’. It provides guidance and advice for families visiting their loved ones in a care home, to make the process easier and to reduce any stresses that may arise. A recent correspondent to the Guardian expressed the frustration they feel at the lack of communication and feeling helpless during their visit.
So anything which makes visiting easier is welcome, both for the well-being of the visitor and the person visited.
The guidance covers preparing for the visit: knowing how much time to spend visiting is a matter for both the person being visited, and the visitor. Sometimes just sitting silently with someone can make them feel better in themselves.
Giving the visit a focus is also described as helpful. Helping a relative arrange their flowers, or tend houseplants; going for a walk; participating in activities which might be planned, and several other helpful suggestions are given.
If the person has memory problems, it can be useful to introduce yourself, and link up with the previous visit.
The guidance also stresses the need to look after yourself as a visitor. Staff will invariably want to make people feel at ease when visiting. Talking about your feelings with staff or the manager can be a useful support. Although the visit will often be a positive memory for the person visited, the relative may have to cope with negative feelings at the end of their visit.
Visiting, as well as being visited
The guidance touches on an area which I think could be further expanded, or indeed be the subject of guidance itself. It speaks about the visitor supporting their relative to go to community events, or even just to the supermarket. I think, where ability permits, this could be widened to support the older person themselves to make visits to their community and previous circle of friends. In my earlier work in care homes, where we could support this, it was hugely appreciated. ‘Being visited’ is a passive experience, but it is enabling to allow the person themselves to decide who they will visit and when: this could make a great contribution to their health and wellbeing, in addition to receiving visitors at home.