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Care home activities matter: Part one - Against loneliness

Without ample opportunities for social engagement, residents are likely to feel isolated and disconnected. This lack of interaction can lead to severe loneliness, adversely impacting their emotional wellbeing and sense of belonging.

The lack of social interaction can lead to significant emotional distress. Residents may experience heightened feelings of sadness, anxiety, and depression due to the absence of meaningful connections and conversations.

We can combat these feelings when we provide opportunities for engagement with suitable care home activities. Participating in enjoyable activities can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, improving residents’ mood and emotional wellbeing.

Engaging in activities that encourage interacting with others, fosters a sense of community and reduces feelings of isolation and loneliness. Limited social interaction can exacerbate feelings of depression and anxiety. Without the stimulation and support from regular social activities, residents may experience a significant decline in their mental health, leading to a poorer quality of life.

Over time, limited social engagement can cause residents to lose confidence in their social abilities, making it even harder for them to initiate and maintain interactions when opportunities do arise. Feeling isolated can lead to a vicious cycle where residents withdraw further, avoiding communal spaces and activities because they no longer feel comfortable or welcomed.

Chronic loneliness has been linked to various health issues, including high blood pressure, weakened immune system, and increased risk of cardiovascular diseases. These physical health problems can worsen the overall wellbeing of the residents. According to the Campaign to End Loneliness, the effect of loneliness and isolation on mortality is comparable to the impact of well-known risk factors such as obesity, and has a similar influence as cigarette smoking. Loneliness can increase the risk of early mortality by 26%.

Isolation can contribute to faster cognitive deterioration in older individuals. Regular social interaction is crucial for maintaining cognitive functions, and its absence can lead to memory loss and impaired reasoning abilities. Loneliness and social isolation have been associated with an increased risk of developing dementia. Engaging in social activities can help keep the brain active and healthy, reducing that risk.

Further complications can result with some residents showing signs of depression, such as loss of appetite and lack of interest in personal hygiene. These can lead to additional work for carers, such as monitoring food intake/weight loss and personal hygiene management of residents.

Feeling isolated can lead to frustration and irritability, manifesting as changes in behaviour. Residents might exhibit more frequent episodes of anger or distress due to their unmet social needs. These can be difficult to manage and result in exhaustion for both the affected resident and care staff.

Care home activities should cater to various interests and abilities, ensuring every resident has the opportunity to engage and feel connected.

Creating an environment in care homes that actively promotes and facilitates social interaction through diverse and inclusive activities can really help to minimise additional care needs.

Rather than adding to the workload, involving carers in activities and giving them time to develop a trusting and understanding relationship with each resident, can actually help to bring balance to the care needs of residents and enable carers to manage their workload more effectively.

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