Project Title:

Volunteer delivered interventions for older people living in care homes: a mixed methods systematic review and stakeholder consultation

Type of Research:

Mixed methods systematic review

Background & Scientific Rationale:

Humans are social animals: we need each other, we build communities. In a 2015 report, over a million older people said they often or always felt lonely (Davidson and Rossall, 2015) and older men may be more isolated than older women, having less contact with friends and family (Beach and Bamford, 2014). Social isolation and loneliness have been shown consistently to be associated with ill health, reduced physical activity and depression and dementia.

A key role for those of us supporting people with dementia is to help them stay “tethered to the world” (Gerrard, 2019), particularly important perhaps in the earlier stages, before the illness progresses, crushing a person’s self-confidence and sense of well-being. Staying connected for as long as possible can alleviate distressing feelings of “solitary confinement” and displacement.
People with dementia usually choose to remain in their own homes for as long as they can. When they move into residential care, they often do so reluctantly or the decision is taken out of their hands. We assume that our loved ones are entering a highly social environment, surrounded by people, so that connectedness is inbuilt. But at the point of moving, an elderly person’s sense of loneliness, isolation, confusion and low self-confidence, means they can’t connect and the supposed move to a place of safety, may feel like a leap into the unknown.

Residents with dementia need support to help them settle in and engage with life in residential care. Those of us who are unaffected by dementia can help motivate, instigate, reassure, support, explain, remind, stimulate, maintain, encourage, laugh, participate, enjoy and share. In reality, care home staff may not reliably have the time every day to spend one-to-one, quality time with residents. What’s more, although staff are caring, kind and competent, there may be language and cultural barriers which need to be supported to facilitate meaningful interaction with residents.

Volunteers make a distinctive contribution based on their equality and closeness to residents, as well as the altruistic dynamic of their engagement, which means that people are treated with compassion, kindness, dignity and respect. At a time when the risks of loneliness and social isolation to people’s physical and mental health and well-being have been well documented, volunteers recruited to these supportive and befriending roles have a clear part to play in promoting the health and well-being of residents in care homes.

Research aims:

The overall aim of the review is to synthesise the evidence on volunteering for older people living in care homes. The review will identify existing evidence related to: systems and structures that currently exist to support volunteering in care homes; experiences of volunteers, care home staff and care home residents ; and evidence of the potential impacts of volunteering. In addition, it will identify gaps in current knowledge and evidence.


A mixed methods systematic review that incorporates the views of stakeholders. The review will be conducted and reported in accordance with the preferred reporting items for systematic reviews and meta-analyses (PRISMA). A systematic review synthesising quantitative and qualitative research will provide up to date guidance for practice and future research that outlines potentially effective interventions and articulates the barriers and facilitators to volunteer delivered interventions in care homes.


For further information on this project, please contact Claire Goodman 


Davidson S, Rossall P (2015). Evidence Review: Loneliness in Later Life. Age UK

Beach B, Bamford S-M (2014). Isolation: The emerging crisis for older men. Independent Age.

Nicci Gerrard (2019) What Dementia Tells Us About Love. Allen Lane

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