The Gallery of Spiritualities – welcome to a new exhibition in a care home

olivia luijnenburgOlivia Luijnenburg is a Research Associate in King’s College London’s NIHR Policy Research Unit in Health and Social Care Workforce. (460 words)

What is ‘spirituality’ in care? How can care home staff attend to residents’ spiritual needs? For my PhD project, I had the task of finding answers to such questions. When thinking about spirituality and spiritual needs, many people’s minds immediately go to religion and religious needs. However, what about care home residents who do not practice a religion or are not part of a religious community? We know that spiritual wellbeing is found through a sense of community, connection, nature, or the arts, which can but does not have to be of a religious nature. Surprisingly, the spiritual needs of older people in residential care have often been overlooked.

To address the lack of knowledge around spirituality in care and illuminate the intangibility of what spiritual needs might look like, I collected ‘artefacts’ from care home residents before talking with them. These could be an object, a space, a song, a person, or anything else that represented a sense of joy, peace, safety, or fond memories for the person. The ‘artefacts’ functioned as a conversation starter, as well as a stimulant to the imagination of what ‘spirituality’ might mean to the participant. They were photographed and collected in a ‘Gallery of Spiritualities’.

On the 10th of November, the ‘Gallery of Spiritualities’ was opened during the first Care Home Research Forum at Nightingale Hammerson Care Home. Twelve photographs, accompanied by snippets of interviews to set the pictures in context were displayed at the back of the home’s conference room. One example is shown below. This is a rather different way of presenting research findings, but I hope that it helps people to think about the subject. Rather than describing spirituality or spiritual care in words, photographs are one way to grasp possible meanings.

For example, after the Care Home Research Forum, someone told me how one of the pictures and caption had touched him. His mother lives abroad and it made him wonder if he called her often enough. Others commented on how the pictures reflect what residents have in their rooms in the care home. The ‘Gallery of Spiritualities’ offers a look into the lives of care home residents and an insight into their possible spiritual needs.

Photo album

Artefact Milly, 89. Photo book of memories (Click image to enlarge)

Milly: “I had twenty albums of photographs… which I knew I couldn’t bring with me. So, I picked out the ones that meant something to me, family… Not holidays, not scenery, but… family and friends. And… this means a lot to me. Ehm… from my father as a baby, to my children, my grandchildren. And that means something to me, yes.”

The Gallery is currently only visible for Nightingale Hammerson staff and residents.

Olivia Luijnenburg is a Research Associate in King’s College London’s NIHR Policy Research Unit in Health and Social Care Workforce.