Publication date: Jan 17, 2024
Speech and language therapists (SLTs) and care home activities staff play key roles in managing and supporting the communication needs of older residents in care homes. However, the current practice and perspectives of these two professions in the United Kingdom has not been examined. To investigate the practice patterns and views of SLTs and activities staff working in UK care homes for older adults in relation to residents’ communication needs. Two online surveys, with 63 questions (SLT survey) and 46 questions (activities staff survey) in total, were created using the online platform Qualtrics. Participants were asked to consider their routine practice before COVID-19. Results were analysed using descriptive statistics and qualitative content analysis. A total of 116 valid responses were received from SLTs and 29 valid responses from activities staff. A high level of communication needs in care homes was reported by both participant groups, as was insufficient time and resources and lack of managerial encouragement in this area. SLTs reported that the majority of referrals to their service from care homes was for swallowing needs (70%). Cognitive communication difficulty was the most commonly reported communication need by SLTs (65%). Most SLTs (73%-87%) provided some level of communication intervention and considered management of residents’ communication needs to be both part of the SLT role and a good investment of their time. Lack of confidence setting goals and providing direct intervention for communication needs was reported, with 25% feeling stressed at the thought of this. The main themes from free text responses about SLT service improvement were increased staff training, funding (of resources and specialist posts) and changes to service provision (referral criteria and accessibility/awareness of SLT service). Hearing impairment was the communication need most commonly reported by activities staff (43%). Participants demonstrated relatively high awareness of communication difficulty in residents and reported high levels of knowledge and confidence identifying and supporting residents’ communication. Most (79%-89%) considered identifying and supporting the communication needs of residents to be part of their role and expressed interest in receiving further training in communication support. The reported activities staff data set may be positively biased. SLTs and activities staff were highly motivated to support the communication needs of care home residents. Increased training, time and resources dedicated to managing the communication needs of residents emerged as opportunities for service improvement across both data sets. What is already known on the subject There is a high level of communication need amongst older care home residents. Social interaction and relationships are important factors contributing to quality of life in this population and rely on successful communication. Speech and language therapists (SLTs) and activities staff play key roles in managing and supporting the communication needs of this client group, but the current practice and perspectives of these professions in the United Kingdom has not been examined. What this study adds A high level of communication need in care home residents was identified by both SLT and activities staff and both participant groups were motivated to address, identify and manage this need. However, insufficient time and resources, as well as a perceived lack of encouragement from managers to provide communication support/intervention, were reported by both groups. SLT practice was constrained by referral criteria and care pathways, which differed between services. Suggestions for SLT service improvement are reported. Clinical implications of this study Targeted, ongoing staff training is required in care homes to improve the communication environment and develop care home staff capacity to support residents’ communication needs. There is also a call for service level improvements to increase the range of SLT practice in care homes, including a greater focus on communication needs and more specialist (e. g., dementia) SLT roles.