Publication date: Oct 01, 2023
Depression in older people living in residential aged care is a serious and highly prevalent health issue, with loneliness and social isolation being major contributors. The COVID-19 pandemic underscored the harm visiting restrictions have on the mental wellbeing of older people in residential aged care. However, there is a need to systematically review the relationship between family visits and depression in this population. This literature review seeks to explore the association between family visits and depression among those living in residential aged care. An integrative review was conducted in March 2022, based on a search of seven databases from inception to 2022. Papers were included if the studies were situated in a residential aged care facility and explored the impact of in-person family visits on depression of residents. Those that examined impact of family visits on community-dwelling older people and papers examining virtual family visits were excluded. The quality of the included papers was assessed using appropriate critical appraisal tools. Guided by the aim of this study, the included papers were narratively synthesised and presented thematically (PROSPERO ID CRD42022325895). Ten papers, published between 1991 and 2022, were included in the final synthesis. Multiple categorisations of frequency of visits and different scales were used to assess depression. Depression among residents in aged care facilities varied from 20 % to 58. 7 % with 40 % of studies showing a positive association between the frequency of family visits and lower rate of depression. Three themes influencing the association between family visits and depression in residential aged care were identified. These were: (i) intersection of culture, filial values, and depression; (ii) resident-related factors including whether admission was voluntary and presence of functional impairment; and (iii) non-resident-related factors such as social activities for residents and staff involvement. Family visits ameliorated loneliness and depression among residents in aged care however, other factors such as culture, comorbidities and functional impairment, opportunities for socialisation and the social involvement of facility staff also influenced depression. Whilst the low number of studies reviewed limited comparison and generalisation of results, the review highlighted the broader and crucial role of healthcare staff in facilitating socialisation and promoting mental wellbeing of residents especially those who are not visited by families. Family visits ameliorate depression in institutionalised older people but may not be the “silver bullet” as depression is multifactorial.