Home care staff feel the strain of caring for people with dementia

More support needed to protect home carers from emotional pressures of providing support to older people with dementia

Care workers who provide personal and domestic care to older people with dementia in their own homes are at risk of feeling under emotional strain and some don’t get as much support as they need, according to a new study.


Researchers at Kingston University and King’s College London explored some of the pressures facing home care workers in London and the South East of England. They found that, while managers and home care workers had clear ideas of what their professional boundaries should be, home care workers sometimes found themselves crossing that line, or being asked to take on tasks beyond their job role.


The combined impact of supporting older people with complex needs, such as those arising from dementia or those requiring end-of-life care, alongside working in someone’s own home, where typical workplace conventions may not exist, add to such pressures the researchers found.


More than half a million people receive care in their own homes in England, according to the health and social care regulator, the Care Quality Commission (CQC). Most of them are aged over 65 and have care needs arising from long-term health conditions, including dementia.


This new research interviewed 30 home care workers and 13 managers, and found that some home care workers find it difficult to refuse requests to carry out extra tasks from their client’s families, particularly if there is strong emotional attachment. Home care workers juggle a desire to be compassionate and helpful, with maintaining professional boundaries.


Dr Tushna Vandrevala, health psychologist and senior lecturer at Kingston University’s School of Social and Behavioural Sciences and part of the research team, said that home care workers sometimes seem to over-invest emotionally and find it hard to set boundaries.


“Many are torn between their professional role and wanting to go beyond that to help the person they have grown attached to. They are often supporting clients’ families and their emotions, and this can be very difficult – sometimes placing considerable emotional and mental strain on themselves”.


The home care workforce in the United Kingdom largely now works for independent or commercial agencies, Dr Vandrevala said. “This means that support and guidance sometimes vary, and much may depend on the support of an individual manager.” 


The research team recommends more discussion with home care workers and their managers about what can be done to support staff. The need for this support might be growing as more people with dementia want to stay at home. “Looking after people with dementia can be rewarding but unpredictable, and often require home care workers to be flexible, prepared for change, and able to put in place creative solutions,” Dr Vandrevala added.


In addition to the emotional pressures home care workers might face on a daily basis, a small number of those who had looked after people with dementia revealed that they sometimes felt vulnerable working in people’s own homes. While acknowledging policies are not able to reduce feelings of vulnerability completely, the researchers found some care workers thought that more employer support could help reduce these risk.


Kingston University research assistant on the study, Dr Ruth Abrams, said managers and staff need to discuss what is acceptable and achievable in their roles, and this information could be shared across the sector. “Professional boundaries are important and managers have a duty of care to protect their staff. Some are already making sure that their workers are well supported and that responsibilities are clear to all.”.


This research was funded by the Dunhill Medical Trust and undertaken in partnership with study lead Professor Jill Manthorpe and Dr Kritika Samsi from the Social Care Workforce Research Unit at King’s College London.



·         Read the published research paper in Cambridge University Press, Ageing and Society


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