The Impact Volunteers Have On Residents Happiness
Loneliness is a problem which has a devastating impact upon the lives of older people – even those living in nursing homes. A recent report by Age UK showed that there are over one million aged 75 and over who are living alone and often go for a month at a time without having any meaningful human interactions. Care home residents may not experience the same sense of isolation, but for those without friends or neighbours popping by to visit, the sense of loneliness is just as real, and just as potentially damaging to health.
The Volunteering in Care Homes Project
In an attempt to tackle the issues surrounding loneliness, a three-year project has been undertaken by Volunteering England and NVCO, funded by the Department of Health. Designed to foster strong relationships between care homes and organisations local to them, the Volunteering in Care Homes Project focussed on the recruitment, training and management of volunteers who would befriend and support care home residents.
With the pilot project having been completed in January 2016, the interim evaluation report has been issued, detailing the significant positive outcome of the project. Perhaps surprisingly, the benefits were not just felt by the residents of nursing homes involved in the study but also by care home workers and by the volunteers themselves, who all reported positive outcomes from the experience. Even relatives of some of the residents reported their delight at the positive benefits of the project.
Benefits of the Project
Care home staff tend to have hectic and demanding schedules, so knowing that their charges were being entertained and occupied by the volunteers helped to ease the pressure on their workloads. They were able to reap the benefit of dealing with happy and contented residents following social events involving volunteers, making it easier to cope with their nursing care duties.
Residents enjoyed playing fun and stimulating games with the volunteers as well as reminiscing over their lives and recalling memories from their youth. This can be a particularly productive exercise for those with dementia or other illnesses affecting memory, as well as providing significant insights into modern history for the volunteers. Reliving long-forgotten memories can help to settle anxious residents, with care home staff reporting improved morale and wellbeing among staff and residents following volunteer visits.
Relatives of residents reported that their loved ones seemed happier and more stimulated, with the volunteers offering a welcome change to the daily routine putting a little extra excitement into their lives.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is the positive impact that the visits have reportedly had on the volunteers themselves. Helping to foster and reinforce a sense of purpose and wellbeing in their lives, volunteering also quickly identifies those with a particular aptitude for elderly care, opening up a possible future career path for them working in state-run or private nursing homes.