5 Ways to improve mental health and well-being in elderly care homes

The UK’s population is growing, and the over 60s make up over 20% of us, and with people living longer, there is expected to be over 3 million people aged 85+ by 2041 (mha.org). With this in mind, the growing number of elderly people living in residential care homes is also set to increase, but are they getting the quality of life they deserve in social care? We’ve highlighted 5 ways to improve mental health and well-being in elderly care homes…

The ever growing population means an increasing demand on the social care sector, and while we often think of care in a physical sense, mental health can often be overlooked due to not recognising the signs. This is something that could be said for society in general, and in recent years there has been a huge emphasis on mental health and recognising just how big an impact it can have on our lives.

The World Health Organisation reported that around 15% of those aged 60 or over suffer from a mental disorder and have said that mental health problems are often under-identified by health-care professionals and older people themselves, and the stigma surrounding these conditions makes people reluctant to seek help. 

Those in care homes may be more susceptible to this for a number of reasons. Depression and loneliness are common in the elderly, and being in an unfamiliar setting can often be distressing (particularly for those who also have Dementia), so that initial transition from independent life into a social care setting is an important time to be aware of the possible signs of depression.

Despite the fact we’re all living-longer and staying active into later life, there is still a stigma around getting older. But this is not something that should be feared, and the care that is provided to the elderly should be reflecting this message. I’m sure most of us would struggle with the thought of getting older if it means we lose the ability to do certain things independently, which is why it is important that those in care experience the best quality of life possible, maintaining dignity and happiness. 

This can be done through a person-centred approach to care. The person-centred approach is all about understanding the individuals needs, and providing a unique care routine that works for them, rather than treating everyone the same. What works for one person may not for another, so here’s a few ways you can help improve the mental health and well-being i elderly care homes

Meaningful and engaging activities

The best way to keep the mind healthy is to keep it stimulated, which is why it’s important to encourage elderly residents to participate in activities throughout their week. A sign that they are potentially not feeling themselves is a sudden disinterest in socialising or doing activities, so if you notice someone is not joining in as much, consider why that is and think about how you could shake up their routine. Better still, speak to them and find out what things they would enjoy doing. Activities should be of genuine personal interest to someone in order to really enrich their life, and what one person likes, the other may not. Some activities on offer may not be suitable for some with physical or learning difficulties, so it’s important to come up with a range of different activities that can be enjoyed by all. 

Embracing personal identity and growth

Just because someone has moved into a social care setting, doesn’t mean they instantly lose their identity, and it’s important for carers to encourage those they support to continue to embrace their identity. If you want to improve mental health and well-being in elderly care homes, then simply having meaningful conversations about someone’s past, looking through old photos, sharing stories with them, will allow carers to connect with those they support on a deeper level – as a person rather than a “patient”. By finding out more about someone’s personal history, it allows you to better cater to their needs in care, and allow them to feel like they are still living their own life. Dignity is extremely important to identity, and elderly people in care should be encouraged to do as much for themselves as possible, where possible, and this can be as simple as picking out their clothing and deciding what they want to do/eat that day. 

Staying social

Relationships are an important part of who we are, and therefore play a huge role in the improvement of mental health and well-being in elderly care homes. As we have mentioned, loneliness is one of the primary causes of depression in the eldery population. And for some, their carer may be the only person they see or speak to all day. Those in residential care should be encouraged to stay social, with visits from family and friends, or speaking on the phone/via video call if they are not able to come in person. 

Having familiar faces in a care setting can help someone relax and feel more at ease, especially if they are in a new environment for the first time. It’s also good to encourage friendships with others in care, and to form bonds with people they have daily interactions with. If someone suddenly stops wanting visitors or to interact and engage with other residents, this could be a sign that they are not quite feeling themselves.

Recognising and recording physical pain

If someone is dealing with pain physically, this can often affect the mind too. It is important to be thorough when checking in with those you support, as pain may not present itself to the eye. Some may be embarrassed about an issue or not want to speak up and cause a fuss, so be sure to talk to them, and encourage them to open up about any discomfort they may be experiencing. 

It is also really important to take notes on any physical ailments, so that the right care can be provided or you can allow them to be seen by a healthcare professional if needed. You can then tailor the care they receive and any activities they do to ensure maximum comfort and well-being. 

Tracking/logging mood

Everyone’s mood fluctuates, and this could be for a number of reasons. It could be they’re simply not a morning person, or they get cranky when they’re hungry, but it’s important to recognise when dips in mood could be something more. 

In order to improve mental health and well-being in elderly care homes, it is worth keeping track and logging the changing moods of people you support. In doing so, this can help you understand if there is a trend (low mood linked to medication, for example), or whether there is something else that needs to be addressed. Depression can present itself in many different ways, and sometimes it can be so subtle that it gets missed entirely. The person centred approach to care requires carers to really get to know and understand the needs of those they support, so that they can quickly notice personality changes that might be a sign of depression or other mental health issues.

Those are our 5 ways to improve mental health and well-being in elderly care homes. At Nourish, we’re all about keeping people connected and promoting person-centered care. If you have any other great tips for improving mental health and well-being, drop them in the comments below!