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17 May 2021

How can care homes maintain good mental health for residents?

Adam Randall

Last week was Mental Health Awareness Week. You may have seen our article about supporting the mental health of the care sector workforce which we posted last week. Following on from that, we think that it’s important to keep mental health on the agenda every week of the year and so now we’re following it up with a look at the mental health of care home residents. 

Though there has been a lot of progress in recent times, the fact is that a lot of ignorance and stigma continues to surround subjects related to mental health. Nobody goes through life with perfect mental health all the time, in much the same way that nobody goes through life without ever becoming physically ill. For this reason, it remains important for us to take the time to consider our behaviour and lifestyle and ensure we are living in a way that is not detrimental to our physical health – similarly, for those in the care sector, we must consider how our actions will affect the mental health of those in our care. 

This year, the focus of Mental Health Awareness Week was on nature. The reason for choosing this focus is that nature can have a very positive effect on our mental health. This has been particularly important over the last year where walks in nature have been crucial to maintaining people’s wellbeing throughout the many lockdowns and restrictions which have been necessary during the pandemic. 

With this in mind, anybody who is responsible for the wellbeing of people in care homes should also be responsible for ensuring that residents have opportunities to be exposed to nature. 

Nature experiences for care home residents 

A short time ago, the COVID-19 restrictions were relaxed, allowing for residents of care homes to take ‘low-risk’ trips. This means, for example, that they are allowed to visit local parks and sit in the gardens of relatives. Though these may sound like small things, after so many months of not being able to go outside, these small doses of nature could have a significant positive impact. 

You can find many examples of care home staff who have found ways to expose residents to nature. One such story comes from Madrid, where a care home outing was arranged for approximately 50 residents to go to The Madrid Zoo Aquarium. One highlight of the trip was getting to see Bing-Xing the giant panda. The was the first outing for the residents since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and so it was especially enjoyable for them all to get out and be around nature again, safe in the knowledge that they had all been vaccinated. 

For an example from within the UK, the residents from Hempton Field care home got to enjoy a day trip around Oxfordshire. Riding in their mini-buses, they got to explore various countryside villages in their area and had a picnic in the parish of Fencott and Murcott. A relatively simple day out, but one which was enjoyed by all the residents and an example of how easy it is to incorporate nature into the lives of care home residents. This trip will be the first of many of its kind. 

Even for residents who may not have the strength to go on a day out, there are ways to ensure that they experience some level of nature in their day-to-day lives. Research by Eva Dahlkvist RN found that people who lived in care homes which provided a garden and ample outdoor space had better mental and overall health than those who didn’t. She found that being in a garden had a restorative effect on residents and helped to evoke memories of their past, with reduced access to gardens leading to lower overall wellbeing. This highlights the importance of these green spaces. Investing in a garden could do a lot to improve the quality of life for those living within your care home. Everybody needs to be close to nature in some way, even if it is just a garden and Eva recommends that staff create regular opportunities for residents to access gardens (or other outdoor areas with greenery). 

As part of Dementia, Care & Nursing Home Expo, we’ll be collaborating with National Activity Providers Association (NAPA) to bring you the Activities Arena. Here, we offer guidance for care home activity coordinators and help them to find engaging activities to keep care home residents healthy and active. These can help to ensure that you are compliant with CQC inspection guidelines and help you to create a more positive environment for your residents. Register to attend Dementia, Care & Nursing Home Expo so that you can take advantage of the Activities Arena and all of the other attractions for care home professionals. 

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