Background: Advanced dementia may be accompanied by behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD). BPSD stemming from pain, depression, or psychosis benefit from treatment with drugs, but in other cases, medications have limited efficacy and may elicit adverse effects. Therefore, more attention has been paid to non-pharmacological interventions, which have fewer risks and can be successful in reducing agitation and negative mood. However, these interventions are frequently not implemented in nursing homes due to staffing constraints. This study explores the potential of volunteers to further assist staff.
Methods: We interviewed 18 staff members and 39 volunteers in 17 aged care facilities in southeast Melbourne, Australia.
Results: Three-quarters of the facilities in this region worked with at least one regular volunteer. Both self-interest and altruistic reasons were identified as motives for volunteering. Volunteers were perceived by facility representatives as helpful to residents through provision of stimulation and company. However, they were discouraged from engaging with individuals with prominent BPSD. A majority of facility representatives and volunteers had experienced some difficulties in negotiating working relationships but most were easily resolved. A large majority of volunteers expressed an interest in learning new methods of interacting with residents.
Conclusion: Despite their beneficial effects for agitated residents, non-pharmacological interventions are often not implemented in aged care facilities. Staff members often lack time but current volunteers in the sector are available, experienced, and interested in learning new methods of interacting. Volunteers therefore potentially are a valuable resource to assist with the application of new treatments.