The UK’s population is growing rapidly, and the over 60s make up over 20% of us. With people living longer, there is expected to be over 3 million people aged 85+ by 2041. With this in mind, the growing number of elderly people living in residential care homes is also set to increase dramatically, but are they getting the quality of life they deserve in social care?
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 care is of equal importance and 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 recognising mental health and just how big an impact it can have on our lives.
The World Health Organisation reported that around 15% of those aged 60+ suffer from a mental disorder and have said that mental health problems are often under-identified by healthcare professionals as well as older people themselves, as the stigma surrounding these conditions contribute to making people reluctant to seek help.
Those in care homes may be more far more susceptible to these challenges for a number of reasons. Depression and loneliness are extremely common in the elderly, and being in an unfamiliar setting or environment can often be distressing (particularly for those who also have Dementia), so that initial transition from independent life into a social care setting is one of the most important times to be conscious of the possible signs of declining mental health.
Despite the fact we’re all living longer and staying active into later life, there is still a stigma around getting older. This is not something that should be feared, and the care that is provided to the elderly should be reflecting this key 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 very the best quality of life possible, maintaining both their dignity and their happiness.
This is best achieved 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 are five ways you can help improve the mental health and well-being in elderly care homes
1. Create meaningful and engaging activities
The best way to keep the mind healthy is to keep it stimulated and active, which is why it’s so incredibly important to encourage elderly residents to participate in a number of activities throughout their week. A sign that they might not be feeling themselves is a sudden disinterest in socialising, engaging in activities or doing things they usually enjoy, 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 or are in the mood to do. Activities should be of genuine personal interest to individuals in order to really enrich their lives, and what one person likes, the other may not. For example, some activities on offer may not be suitable for some people with physical or learning difficulties, so it’s important to come up with a range of different activities that can be enjoyed by all.
2. Embracing personal identity and growth
Just because someone has moved into a social care setting, doesn’t mean they instantly lose their own individualism and identity, it’s important for carers to strongly encourage those they support to continue to embrace their personal 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, and sharing stories with them, will allow carers to connect with those they support on a much deeper level; as a person rather than a “patient”. By finding out more about someone’s personal history and life, carers can better cater to their individual needs in care, and allow them to feel like they are still living their own life or have a sense of independence.
Dignity is extremely important to identity, and elderly people in care should be encouraged to do as much for themselves as possible, wherever possible, and this can be as simple as picking out their clothing and deciding what they want to do or eat that day.
3. Helping those in your care stay social
Relationships are an important, if not an integral, 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 elderly 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 as often as possible, with visits from family and friends, or speaking on the phone/video calling if they are not able to come in person.
Having familiar faces in a care setting can be extremely helpful for someone trying to relax and feel more at ease, especially if they are in a new environment for the first time. It’s 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 is almost definitely a sign that they are not quite feeling themselves or are feeling anxious or and depressed.
4. Recognise and record physical pain
If someone is dealing with pain physically, this often affects the mind too. It is important to be incredibly thorough when checking in with those you support, as pain may not simply and clearly present itself to the eye. A lot of people can 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 physical or digital notes on any physical ailments, so that the right care can be provided and you can allow them to be seen by a healthcare professional if needed. This means you can tailor the care they receive and any activities they do to ensure maximum comfort and well-being.
5. Help to track/log mood
Everyone’s mood fluctuates, and this could be for a number of reasons which are all very normal. 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 an indication of something more serious.
In order to improve mental health and well-being in elderly care homes, it’s worth keeping track and logging the changing moods of the people you support. In doing so, you can gain a deeper understanding of trends (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 which can often be so subtle that they get missed entirely. A person-centred approach to care requires carers to really get to know and understand the individual 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.
Improving mental health in your care home
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. For more information on how we can help improve the health and wellbeing in your care homes, get in touch with the team or book a demo.