Ageing and Society

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Ageing and Society (2009), 29:1041-1063 Cambridge University Press
Copyright © 2009 Cambridge University Press

Research Article

Developing personal relationships in care homes: realising the contributions of staff, residents and family members


a1 School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work, University of Manchester, UK.
a2 Visiting Reader, University of Sheffield, UK.
a3 Sheffield Institute for Studies on Ageing, University of Sheffield, UK.
Article author query
wilson cb [PubMed]  [Google Scholar]
davies s [PubMed]  [Google Scholar]
nolan m [PubMed]  [Google Scholar]


Personal relationships are an integral part of living, working and visiting in care homes, but little research has made relationships the main focus of enquiry, and there have been few studies of the perspectives of residents, staff and family members. The study reported here sought to redress this neglect. Using a constructivist approach, the nature and types of relationships between residents, staff and family members were explored in three care homes in England using combined methods including participant observation, interviews and focus groups. The data collection and analysis occurred iteratively over 21 months and three types of relationships were identified: ‘pragmatic relationships’ that primarily focus on the instrumental aspects of care; ‘personal and responsive relationships’ that engage more fully with the particular needs of individual residents; and ‘reciprocal relationships’ that recognise the roles of residents, staff and family members in creating a sense of community within the home. This paper explores the contributions made by staff, residents and family members in the development of these relationships. The findings enhance our understanding of the role of inter-personal relationships in care home settings and of the factors that condition them. The implications for developing improved practice in care homes are also considered.

(Accepted December 11 2008)

(Online publication June 11 2009)

Key Words:relationships; care homes; older people; resident-centred care; relationship-centred care


c1 Address for correspondence: Christine Brown Wilson, School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work, University of Manchester, Manchester M13 9PL, United Kingdom. E-mail: