Guest blog: Volunteers improving the quality of life of older residents in care homes

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This guest post was contributed by Kristen Stephenson, Volunteering Development Manager, at NCVO

The Volunteering in Care Homes’ Project was a three year pilot project funded by the Department of Health to evaluate the impact of volunteers on the quality of life of older residents in care homes. The evaluation showed a profound impact on the social and emotional wellbeing aspects of quality of life and quality of care for older residents.

  • 96% of staff and volunteers reported a positive impact on the social contact that residents had
  • 90% of staff and volunteers recorded that they thought volunteers had a positive impact on residents’ feeling of safety
  • for relatives, additional eyes and ears contributed to their peace of mind

Support from volunteers ranged from informal just ‘sitting and being’ with people, listening to music and chatting to one-to-one befriending relationships and support. Befriending relationships also involved trips outside the home and some practical support such as assistance with correspondence. Their contribution was greatly valued by residents, relatives and staff in the care home. It can help to combat loneliness, offers social stimulation, is fun and can provide profound supportive relationships.

One care home worker observed, “Residents love the interaction and to feel that they have someone to visit who is special to them and has time to sit and listen,.…and share their views and interests, and give them contact with the outside world.”

Social stimulation in care homes is extremely important in helping to prevent social isolation which has been proven to have a negative impact on older people’s health. The Marmot Review noted that: “Individuals who are socially isolated are between two and five times more likely than those who have strong social ties to die prematurely”In 2012 The Social Care Institute for Excellence reported that social isolation and loneliness can impact specifically on blood pressure and is closely linked to depression.

Barriers to embedding volunteering in care homes

There are challenges for the care home sector to embedding volunteering in order to ensure that older people in residential care can benefit from the contribution volunteers can make to quality of life and quality of care.

The key barrier identified was a lack of ongoing coordination and support provided to volunteers by some care homes. Some staff felt they had a lack of time and knowledge to manage volunteers. This can impact on the quality of the experience for volunteers and their retention. For the benefits of volunteering in care homes to be maximised, staff need to develop their skills in volunteer management and have the time to provide the day to day co-ordination and support.

Call to action

For care homes interested in developing volunteering the project produced a toolkit and a number of other practical resources to help. NCVO also has a range of practical support on recruiting and managing volunteers.

Tackling social isolation is not just a concern for care homes alone given its links to a decline in physical and mental health. It is also a priority for the NHS, public health and adult social care. One solution to addressing the barriers to embedding volunteering in care homes would be to encourage more partnership working and pooling of resources across these agencies, whether that be skills and/or investment to support care homes to develop the infrastructure to take forward good quality volunteering.

You can find free information and advice about choosing a care home and paying for care on the Age UK website

One response to “Guest blog: Volunteers improving the quality of life of older residents in care homes

  1. This work appears to offer a number of valuable insights.
    However the secret to sustainability is less clear, and how to overcome the issues that undermine the volunteering experience. The evaluation report refers to:
    1. A lack of on-going coordination and support provided to volunteers by some care homes, and
    2. Staff feeling they lacked time and knowledge to manage volunteers.
    …and recommends that staff need to:
    1. Develop their skills in volunteer management and
    2. Have the time to provide the day to day co-ordination and support.
    In the current climate, both the time and money required for these activities are scarce, and care homes may be reticent to invest in these when considering the range of other competing priorities they face.
    Success can only be achieved by care homes that have a clear and steadfast vision for community engagement – by care homes with a genuine insight into the value to their residents of opening their doors to welcome the community in.
    I’m not sure the NCVO project sheds much light on these sorts of more strategic issues. There is a mention of a “full report for more detail” in the evaluation report referenced in this blog, but there doesn’t appear to be any links to this via the ‘Volunteering in Care Homes Project’ link…?
    Maybe this fuller report covered the ‘enabling factors’ for sustainability in more detail?
    NB It’s been a year since this project came to an end and it would be very useful to see how things are going at the care homes involved in the project. For example:
    – The number of volunteer hours in the most recent quarter.
    – The extent volunteer recruitment is on-going.
    – The support in place for volunteers where things are going well.
    – The issues that have contributed to a reduced commitment to engage volunteers.
    Not so much about the value that volunteers can bring – most would accept this on face value – but about what things nurture or inhibit a positive volunteering climate.

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