As care homes close their doors, we look at how to help friends and relatives stay in touch…
Having a connection to those we love is an important psychological need, and regular visits to the care home from family and friends helps meet that need. Having visitors is important for anyone, but doubly so for those who do not interact with other residents or take part in social activities, and those who often stay in their rooms.
As an activity coordinator you may be asked to ensure that residents do not become socially isolated during this time by compensating in some way for the lack of visitors. This will likely provide a challenge for you and other care staff, so here are some ideas of how you might assist families and residents to stay connected. Of course you may need to adapt these ideas to comply with your specific care setting’s policies and procedures, but these should provide a good starting point.
Where you can, make use of telephone calls, Skype and other electronic means to help people stay in touch. Perhaps extra 1:1 time could be devoted to helping residents speak with family or friends, especially those who cannot do this without support.
Encourage families and friends to send postcards, letters or emails, providing a connection to things on the outside world. Suggest that messages are kept upbeat and concentrate on positive things. For example, rather than focusing on the coronavirus and the fact that people can’t get out, perhaps messages can focus on what people have been doing. (I’ve been decorating the spare bedroom and it looks lovely!) Also, register with Postcards of Kindness, who send postcards to care homes from all over the world.
Ask families to send photographs and any items that could be used as a talking point around families, the local community etc. Photos of grandchildren, old magazines, sewing patterns, and letters would be great – anything they might have in storage that would be familiar to their family member and get them talking.
Make use of simple resources that care staff can use to connect with a resident during the usual course of their day. The Daily Sparkle’s newspaper and monthly resource pack would be great examples here, providing plenty of conversation starters.
During this enforced absence you may be able to make small gifts or token items to give to families when visits resume. Activity coordinators have previously given us the following suggestions of gifts that residents can be involved in making.
- Pound-shop photo frames decorated with buttons
- Gift boxes decorated and filled with sweets
- A photograph made into a postcard and sent
- Personalised gifts made by using sew-on/printed initials on an inexpensive standard product
Keep families informed of what has been happening in the home with newsletters and emails. Even if activities have been low-key and the amount of outside entertainment has reduced or ceased, it is worth sharing some information about activity that has taken place. More than ever, family members would be grateful to receive any update that helps them stay connected.
These are just a handful of suggestions, so I’m sure you will have other ideas of your own. Families and friends may also come up with some ingenious ways to make any enforced separation easier to bear. It would be great if you were able to share your ideas with fellow activity coordinators in our Activity Coordinators’ Facebook Group, which you can join here.