Visitor restrictions in care homes have been distressing for many people across the country, but especially people affected by dementia. We explain the government’s visitor guidance in more detail and what it means for families with loved ones living with dementia in care homes.
For many care home residents with dementia, family and friends provide more than just visits. They play a significant role in a person’s care, whether it’s interpreting their needs to staff, or providing personal care.
Regular family contact is also important for maintaining mental and communication skills. Visits are key to the health and wellbeing of a person living with dementia in care home.
The government published guidance for care home visits in England on 22 July. This is a step in the right direction for families desperate to visit their loved ones.
But it’s important that this guidance is being interpreted and implemented by local authorities and care homes in a way that works for people affected by dementia and those close to them.
What does the Government guidance on care home visits say?
The new government guidance sets out steps that local authorities can take, working with the care homes in their area, to enable visits to restart safely.
The guidance recognises important factors, including:
- The local coronavirus situation
- The benefits to a person’s wellbeing by having visitors in person
- The harm that might be experienced by the resident from a lack of visitors
- The provisions and needs outlined in an individual’s care plan
The guidance also highlights the need for individual assessments if remote communication (such as video calls) or the recommended socially distanced visits are not working. This is very important for a lot of people living with dementia, as these visits are causing more distress or are not enough to allow meaningful interaction.
How the guidance should work for people affected by dementia
We know many families affected by dementia are concerned about how visitor policies are being developed by care home providers. There is little understanding about what consideration is being given to the complex nature of dementia. There are additional concerns about how realistic socially distanced visits are for care home residents living with the condition.
We have developed key recommendations that we need local authorities to take into account when supporting care homes to reopen safely.
Our key recommendations are:
- Family or close friend carers must be seen as equal partners in the wellbeing of each resident. Some care homes now have an ‘essential family carers’ scheme in place that recognises this.
- Ways of staying in touch with care home residents must always meet individual needs, despite potential future periods of lockdown.
- Regular and clear communication with families about their loved one’s health and wellbeing is vital.
- Active consideration must be given to ensure the limit on number of family visitors does not cause undue distress to the individual living with dementia, and that this is mitigated if necessary.
If these are implemented, we believe everyone living with dementia in a care home will be able to have visits from loved ones safely, in a way that works for them.
How should I talk to a care home manager about visits?
If keeping in touch through technology, such as video calls, is not working for you, then you could discuss meeting your loved one in person from a safe distance in an outdoor space.
If socially distanced visits are not proving beneficial for you or your loved one with dementia, then government guidance recommends the care home works with you to provide appropriate PPE (personal protective equipment) for non-socially distanced visits.
Talk to the care home about the recommendation from government that, where visits are not working, individual assessments are carried out. Visits can then be adjusted appropriately, in a way that ensures the safety of residents and staff.
With these measures in place, people with dementia in care homes can have visits from loved ones that are best suited for them. This can ensure the adverse effects of social isolation caused by lockdown no longer continue.
What else can I do to influence care home visits?
It is also the responsibility of local authorities to make sure the government guidance is enacted in a way that works for all care home residents.
You can help ensure care home visits work for people affected by dementia by sending our briefing to your local Councillor, to make sure our calls are seen by the right people in your area.
Contact your local Councillor
Send our recommendations on care home visits to your local Councillor to the government guidance work for people affected by dementia so families can be better connected.