Coping with Care Home Visitor Restrictions
Government guidance on 2nd April stated: ‘Family and friends should be advised not to visit care homes, except next of kin in exceptional situations such as end of life’. This guidance has been issued to help protect residents and staff from the spread of the virus. Families will be concerned about the impact of no visits on their relative. Families may be missing the contact and worry that their relative may deteriorate or feel abandoned.
Here are some ideas and resources for family carers separated from a family member living in a care home in quarantine:
It is important to maintain an open channel of communication with the management of the care home. This is a challenging situation for everyone, the care home manager and staff team will be under considerable stress, trying to keep the workforce healthy and maintaining a safe environment for all residents. Keeping a dialogue going ensures that your desire and intention to communicate with your relative remains on their radar.
Identify a key member of staff to liaise with and check in on your relative at scheduled times. Ensure that any specific needs your relative has are known about and documented. Make sure that your relative’s life-story book is available in the care home and update it regularly with family news and pictures. Encourage care home staff to add to the life story book too.
Make use of technology to communicate with your relative by using apps like Skype, WhatsApp, FaceTime. A staff member may need to support this process. Negotiate specific times with the care home, ideally when your relative is likely to be at their best. Being able to see your relative will help to reassure you of their wellbeing, and for them, seeing you on screen will help to reinforce familiarity and connection.
Music is a powerful way to provide stimulation and create meaning for a person with dementia. Create a personal playlist for your relative and make sure that the care home has a means of playing this music in your relative’s room. Familiar and favourite music will help calm agitation and distress, which is a benefit for the care home too.
Many care home residents are having to stay in their own rooms. Sending videos, postcards, pictures and messages, electronically and by post, will help to create a sense of comfort and familiarity.
It might be possible to see your relative by standing or sitting on the other side of a window or glass door. This has been successful for some family carers. Being able to see your relative, and for he/she to be able to see you, whilst speaking on the phone (or communicating with pictures and word cards) can be reassuring. However, this would not work for all people with dementia, some may find it doubly confusing, potentially precipitating a distressed reaction.
As the pandemic takes hold and the population batons down the hatches for an extended period, it will be important to find a strategy that works for you if you are trying to maintain connection with a relative in a care home. Some care homes will allow visits in exceptional circumstances. Check with the care home management what their policy is and keep the dialogue open, honest and balanced.
This is difficult for everyone. By having to prohibit visits from family carers, care homes have lost a key resource: many family carers are used to spending a lot of time with their relatives, every day or several days per week, carrying out key care responsibilities. Family carers are integral to the care team for a person with dementia. Without the help of family carers, care workers are under added pressure, especially since many are having to self-isolate at home themselves if anyone in their family has symptoms.
Dementia UK provides a helpline operated by Admiral Nurses – 0800 888 6678
Relatives and Residents Association is a national charity that supports, informs and speaks on behalf of older people in care – 020 7359 8136
Dementia UK and the Relatives and Residents Association have partnered to produce some helpful ideas for relatives and friends of people living in care homes: https://www.relres.org/keep-in-touch/