Care Home Visits  After Lockdown –

How Staff Can Prepare To Make A Smooth Transition

After 12 months in lockdown, signs of life are slowly beginning to unfurl as we take our first few steps along the road to normality. On March 8th, the UK government has agreed to allow care homes to unlock their doors and allow one visitor to have face to face contact with a loved one.

There will be regulations to follow for everyone’s safety, such as wearing face masks, limited contact and the obligatory hand sanitising upon entrance and exit, which are all vital practices to prevent the spreading of the virus again.

However, after such a long period without face-to-face contact with family members, it may not be as straightforward at it seems. Many elderly people find a change of routine can be disturbing and can cause anxiety and even though they are looking forward to seeing their relative, it may be a little strained to begin with for both sides.

We offer guidance for care home staff to help to make the experience a positive one for everyone.

What can you provide to help family rebuild the connection with their loved ones?

Some families may have had limited opportunity to have contact with their relatives within the care home and that first visit may feel a little detached. This may be especially true if the resident has a dementia and doesn’t recognise their visitor. Try to have some family photographs around the room or ask the visiting relative to bring something with them to look at together.

Conversation can sometimes be a little stilted on that initial visit, so why not include a fun game that helps get people talking – Let’s Talk cards is a great game that asks simple questions that often lead to reminiscence and memories being shared. A few cards could just be left on a table to pick up for when people run out of things to say.

What can you do with residents before the family arrives to prepare them?

Provide frequent reminders leading up to the visit – especially for anyone with a dementia. Help them to look their best as they may feel jaded after being cooped up inside for so long and the visitor may want to take a photograph or do an online meeting involving other members of the family while they are there.

Try to arrange the visit at a time when the resident is most alert. Avoid mealtimes or when they are likely to be taking a nap during the day.

If the residents have been involved in craft sessions or have created something, put them nearby or take photographs to enable the resident to share their experience and show what they have been doing with their time.

If the weather is fine, set aside a few wheelchairs and seating areas outside (if available) for people to walk and talk. This gives more scope for discussions about weather, birdsong, future events and reminiscence (family picnics, trips and similar). Some people may like to do something practical so maybe leave a few garden tools like weeding forks and gloves for anyone to share a little weeding together.

What can you do or provide to help tackle any anxiety or stress caused by the change?

Residents living with a dementia may find their visit experience stressful, they may not recognise the visitor and may find the interruption to their day an annoyance. Try to organise visits during an activity session when the care home is naturally a little noisier and busier. Space chairs to leave one near each resident with a visitor in order that they can have the opportunity to talk to one another.

Choose a singalong or craft session that visitors could join in easily, so they are able to see their loved one enjoying themselves and gradually start to engage. A singalong CD of 1950s Hits will get everyone joining in and can lead to reminiscence of past dances, outfits worn and favourite artists of the day. You could also have a few cheerleader pom poms to wave.

Or maybe have a few simple crafts around like a knob of modelling clay to shape into something (or just to squash and squeeze for its tactile property) or some colouring pages and pencils that can help to relax the resident and allow them to listen and maybe respond to their visit.

Some older people can have hands that fidget and this can be especially pronounced when they are feeling anxious. Provide a comforting tactile cushion or something like a Textured Tangle that they can hold in their hand or on their lap to help keep their fingers busy.

What can you ask the families to do to make these first interactions as good as possible?

The visitors will also want their visit to be a positive experience so beforehand, update them on their loved one’s state of health in order to warn them about any possible changes in appearance since they last had contact. Ask them to maybe bring along any recent photographs of family members to remind them and also to help as conversation starters.

Remind the visitor to take things gently, low volume chatting and allow plenty of time for a response to questions. Come with a few ideas for discussion – local news, family events, current affairs and similar. The resident may not have much to talk about so will enjoy hearing other news, however mundane it may seem to the visitor. The visitor could maybe bring a local newspaper with them or card made by any younger members of the family that can be left and enjoyed once the visit is over.

Ask them to watch for signs of fatigue – elderly people can find talking for too long tiring, and make excuses to leave as soon as this happens. Two thirty-minute visits a week are often better than two hours once a month.

To see the latest government guidelines of care home visits click on the link below: