Visiting people in care homes

The first time I ever went to a care home it was an unsettling experience. I had never met so many frail people gathered all in one place. I’m used to it now and I look beyond their frailty and see them as the amazing people that they are, the results of their lives.

However there are some “rules” to understand. This is their home and we are entering into their space. Not everyone in the home will be suffering from the same kind of condition, although many will suffer from dementia at some level or another. The registration of the home will provide more information on the kind of residents you are likely to meet.

Don’t assume anything about the residents, ask them, they will tell you or if they cannot communicate their needs, which will usually be clear. I’ve met a lovely gentleman recently and asked if I could sit on his bed, so as to get near enough for him to be able to hear. I made sure that he was still comfortable and he confirmed that he was. Although it was probably not the ideal situation, the resident, my client was happy for it to happen and I was not there long enough to have had an impact on his skin integrity. What he was able to achieve was to clearly see and hear me. It was a bit squeaky sitting on the edge of an air wave mattress though, but some how we muddled through. In this instant, my client had capacity.

I’ve met other clients who are very “functioning”, so you can have a conversation at some level with them. But they are in care for a reason and in another case on a locked ward and for good reason. I had a coherent conversation with the client, although marginally limited, not that limited. She was physically very well and very mobile, she later chased us down the corridor and out of the unit. She had frontal lobe damage, which meant that her mood changed in a heartbeat and she would escalate to a high level of agitation all too easily. She became highly confrontational very quickly and needed extremely skilled care.

People in care are often quite instinctive, so I need to calmly approach them and consider myself subservient to them and behave with passive body language. If they are walking down the corridor, I get out of their way; I never expect them to get out of my way.

Importantly don’t make any assumptions about anyone in care, other than those in a clearly designated uniform, as they probably work there. I have a number of high functioning residents try to get out when I leave a locked home or ward and if I don’t know who they are I would never allow anyone else out with me, I’d seek advice from a carer and if necessary have an escorted exit.

In professional matters, my aim is to make the situation better if possible, but if nothing else, at least not to make things worse. The same is true of care homes, which includes the obvious, like if I feel unwell, I don’t visit. I’m grateful for the work that I have and the amazing people I meet.