Apr 02, 2024

Living, not just existing: Wellbeing expert Jade Ellis on the vital role of wellbeing in care homes

Wellbeing expert Jade Ellis discusses the vital role of wellbeing in care homes to improve overall quality of life

Wellbeing in care homes means making sure individuals feel physically, mentally, and socially healthy. When we focus on their wellbeing, it makes the care home a happier and more supportive place for everyone involved. People feel respected, empowered and in control of their lives, which greatly improves their quality of life. 


What does wellbeing mean in care homes? 

When we think about quality of life in care settings, in the past this thinking has been focused on providing good levels of care around operations and efficiency in, for example, medication management, maintenance or care records.  

But in more recent times, though still essential to providing person-centred care, high quality care notes and medication management as examples are being seen more as givens, and the thinking is turning to what else can be done to provide people living in care settings with the quality of life they deserve. In short, are people in care homes living, or just existing?  


Living or existing? 

Creating a holistic environment is key to ensuring better quality of life for people living in care. This means not only working to meet an individual’s physical needs but also paying close attention to emotional needs and social connections. By encouraging engagement, socialising and honouring everyone’s preferences and abilities, we can create an environment where everyone thrives and wellbeing in care homes is improved.  

For all of us, existing is covering the basics: having enough food, water, clean clothes and somewhere to live. For people living in care homes, that means ensuring they are not malnourished or dehydrated, that they’re receiving the right medications at the right time, in short that they’re receiving the clinical care they need, but what is the purpose and benefit of that life if we don’t have a sense of enjoyment and fulfilment?  

For a long time, we’ve tended to focus on the ‘existing’ part of wellbeing in care homes, but what really makes the difference to quality of life for those living in care is that attention paid to the things that make a person unique – their interests, their history, their preferences, whether it’s a particular type of music they like or any hobbies they have, these are the things that in many instances make life worthwhile.  


What does wellbeing in care homes look like? 

Enhancing wellbeing in care homes means understand the categories for wellbeing care, which include: 

Physical wellbeing

Regular exercise, balanced nutrition and ensuring a good amount of rest

When considering physical wellbeing, it’s important to make sure that residents are as comfortable as possible and are well-rested and getting good quality sleep but also promoting exercise so that they can remain as independent as possible while encouraging them to do as much as they can. This helps people remain a sense of continuity in their lives so that when they move into a care home, it’s a chance for some things to carry on as normal, as if they were still at home. This could be something as simple as making a cup of tea for themselves, but in my experience of working in care for 20 years, it’s the little things that make the biggest differences. 

Emotional wellbeing

Promoting self-expression, empathy and connections

For emotional wellbeing it’s important to consider the things that are important to people living in care. Maintaining a connection could, for someone in care, mean they listen to the radio first thing in the morning with their breakfast because this really sets them up for the day, and it’s something they have done for many years. For others it could mean a lady who puts on her makeup every morning or goes to the hairdressers, or for a gentleman it’s wearing a nice shirt and tie – it's about promoting the things that make them feel like themselves, that make them feel good. 

Social wellbeing

Promoting and fostering meaningful relationships and community engagement 

When considering wellbeing generally, it’s important that you ask yourself how are we helping the people in care you look after to make or maintain social connections? How are we supporting residents to connect with each other? How do we foster a true sense of community? This could be achieved by setting up groups that centre around common community interests – it might be clubs, groups or connections with the wider community.  

It’s so important to do this because we need to be thinking about supporting people in care to transition from one home to another. After all, it’s a very difficult thing to move into a care home after so many years living in your own home. Thinking about it from the older person’s point of view, you’re in your own space all the time, in your own home, and then suddenly you have to move into shared housing with dozens, sometimes hundreds of other people who you don’t know. How often do we actually stop and consider the impact of this on someone moving into care?  

These are the things that need to be considered carefully: how the social aspects of living in care are so important, how do we support staff and residents to be social, how are we supporting family members to be part of that social connection as well? And how are we supporting the care home to be part of the wider community? Feelings of isolation are regrettably all too common for people living in care, so it’s crucial for is to ensure they feel like they are still part of a community.  

Intellectual wellbeing

Encouraging and supporting curiosity, creativity and continuous learning

When looking at intellectual wellbeing, we tend to do a lot of reminiscing for people living in care. Whether it’s talking about past experiences, important moments in their life, trying to bring back memories or partaking in activities that can stimulate recollections in their life, this is a powerful way of keeping people connected to their personal history as well as being a good way to promote healthy cognitive function. But it doesn’t have to stop there – the best intellectual wellbeing care gives equal importance to creating new memories and having new learning opportunities. Learning new things and creating new memories doesn’t have to stop when people move into a care home – it shouldn’t stop.  

Even for people living with dementia, taking the time to create new memories or new experiences is important because even if they don’t remember it next week or even that evening, learning something new creates new pathways in the brain and it can help to retain information. And that feeling that they felt in the moment, for example if they felt happy or they were laughing, that feeling can still stay with them. Broadly speaking, the best way to ensure positive wellbeing outcomes is to always remember that the people in care are just that – they're still people. Their lives shouldn’t stop when they move into a care home, instead it should just be the next phase of their lives. And just as many of us feel enriched when we learn new skills or make new memories, it’s no different for those living in care.  

Spiritual wellbeing

Promoting mindfulness, reflection and gratitude

Spiritual wellbeing is important because in promoting individual wellbeing, support needs to be given to people to stay connected to their culture, their background and their religion or anything else that is important to them. This can be a great way of promoting inclusivity and diversity in the home and it can also encourage new learning opportunities for everyone by discussing different cultures and religions within the home. But not just with people living in care, it’s important to recognise and celebrate the diverse cultures and religions of people working in care too.  

Investment in wellbeing 

Making a meaningful investment in the provision of wellbeing in care homes is a huge factor on what care homes are able to provide to achieve outstanding outcomes in the areas discussed above. Even now, many care homes do not have an activity budget at all, so if they do want to provide outlets for creative or meaningful activities, if they want to buy supplies or do anything else with their residents like go on days out or organise events, they have to fundraise. 

This can put many care homes in difficult positions, and it can be hard for care homes to do. Care staff already have difficult jobs and work long hours, and having to fundraise on top of that can easily lead to staff burnout. While there is no average budget for activities in care homes, in my experience most companies that do have a budget usually set aside an average of about 50p per month for each person living in care.  

For that amount of money for each resident per month, you couldn’t even buy them a cup of tea, let alone do anything truly meaningful with them, so if we want the quality of life and wellbeing in care homes to truly improve, if you want the people living in care homes you care for to experience the best life that they can, then there has to be an element of investment into wellbeing care. Ultimately, if more serious investment isn’t put into the provision of wellbeing care, then this has a direct impact on resident happiness and satisfaction, which can manifest in: 

  • Limited engagement with the care home community due to a lack of opportunities to do so 

  • Decreased wellbeing leading to reduced quality of life 

  • Risk of cognitive and physical decline 

  • Limited engagement opportunities with the wider community 

  • Staff burnout 


Barriers to wellbeing in care homes 

We've already discussed the fact that a lack of real investment is an issue in care settings of all sizes, and that on average, the budget allocated to wellbeing programmes tends to be almost nothing, but what are other barriers to wellbeing in care homes? 

  • Resistance to change: Some people are less receptive to changes in their routine or think that the way it has always been done is the way it should be done 
  • Lack of awareness or training: Staff might not know about the importance of wellbeing in care homes or how to help residents 
  • Cultural or organisational norms: The culture of the care home might not prioritise activities 
  • Churn: For one reason or another, staff turnover is high in care settings, which means that there are fewer outlets and resources with which to implement a more formal and considered wellbeing care strategy.  


But just because these barriers exist, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t strategies you can implement in order to overcome them. Below are some ways in which you can overcome any challenges to implementing wellbeing and activities in your care setting: 


Get leaders on board

Support managers and leaders on why wellbeing is important and show them how it can help residents. By inspiring care leaders to prioritise wellbeing initiatives and encouraging a shift towards innovative approaches, we can foster a culture of continuous improvement and excellence in care delivery.  

Taking positive risks

When care settings focus too much on avoiding all risks, it can make life boring and frustrating for the people we care for. But when looking at the bigger picture, positive risk-taking, making informed decisions to allow individuals to engage in activities that might have risks but can lead to positive outcomes, can greatly improve someone’s life by giving them more independence and confidence. Undertaking risk-benefit assessments will help you evaluate the risk to reward ratio, and you might find that accepting a bit of risk ultimately pays off in the long run.  

Train staff

It’s important to give staff the opportunity to upskill and learn about wellbeing and how to help residents in better ways, which you can do by investing in our Wellbeing Bundles that are available through our Wellbeing & Activities Training for staff 

Change of culture

Fostering a culture that prioritises wellbeing and sees it as an element of overall quality of care that is just as important as more clinical elements is crucial, so make sure that the care home is a place where everyone cares about resident wellbeing and is open to new ideas.

Involve everyone

A whole home approach is vital for wellbeing care, so include residents, families and staff in decisions about wellbeing programmes and listen to their ideas.

Start small

It’s all-too easy to feel overwhelmed when trying to make wholesale changes to the strategy of care your care home implements, so starting small is key. Try out new ideas little by little and make change easier for everyone to accept, understand and build upon. 


All of this comes back to the central premise – do we want people living in care to just exist, or do we want them to actually live? Achieving the highest standards of care means ensuring the best possible quality of life, and that means focusing on wellbeing.

For too long, people have had an impression of care homes that mainly sees older people just sat around with very little to do, with few opportunities for individual expression or engagement, sat around doing the same puzzles over and over again, but if we focus on lifestyle-based activities that are geared towards the individuality of residents, prioritising daily routines, interests and life stories that align with the resident’s preferences and lifestyles, then we can make a care home more than just a place where people are being looked after – we can make it a real community in which people continue to live full and enriching lives, learning new skills, making new memories and fostering new relationships. 


If you want to learn more about the vital role of wellbeing in care homes and how you can achieve higher standards of quality of life for the people you care for, you can book a demo to learn more about the Oomph! On-Demand Wellbeing & Activities Platform 
April 2, 2024

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