Living well through activity in care homes

This week I have been involved in filming a rough cut for a short film for people who are looking for a care home. The idea for the film rose from the publication last year of the College of Occupational Therapists’ Living well through activity in care homes toolkit.


It is really important for people with dementia to be supported to maintain normal daily life and to live in their own home. For some there may come a point when residential or nursing care is the best option for meeting their needs. The idea for the film was born out of conversations with relatives of people with dementia and their experience of not knowing where to start in their search.

Judging a home by the feel of the place and the décor seems a common experience. Many report the rapid decline they see in their relative on entering into care and how sad it is to visit when everyone is sat around the communal areas with the television on but little conversation or activity. We recognise the truth behind the saying if you don’t use it, you lose it but we appear accepting that once someone is requiring 24 hour support they no longer need opportunities to retain their existing skills, interests and ways of doing things.

Activity: something someone does

As occupational therapists believe that human beings have an innate drive to do we recognise that taking away choice and opportunity to engage in occupation can lead to boredom, frustration, irritability and ill health. We define activity as something someone does and being active as showing involvement. Regardless of age or diagnosis we have the right to remain active throughout our life span. Recent research highlights the risk of early mortality associated with feelings of loneliness and that those who are sedentary are much more likely to be depressed than those who are active (Steptoe et al, 2012)

Living with dementia and living life

As AHPs we need to support the message to the general public that living with dementia is not just about being a recipient of care but it is about living life. We cannot expect care home staff to have the levels of skills and expertise to address the often complex needs an older person with dementia but we do need them to understand when and whom to turn to for advice be it with eating, moving or communicating. The way forward is not seeing the care home as the be all and end all of care but ensuring equality of access by care home residents to AHP services and working in partnership with care staff.

Environment, staff attitude and communication all support activity.

To start changing perceptions of the public and the understanding of care home staff, the Living well through activity in care homes toolkit touches on ideas for activities for people in the later stages of dementia, and the role the environment, staff attitude and communication has in supporting activity. All AHPs have a part to play in enabling activity and I would be keen to hear other people’s successes in working with care homes and residents with dementia.


The toolkit can be downloaded from our website-


Karin Tancock

Karin Tancock
Professional Adviser for Older People and Long Term Conditions

I provide advice and information to occupational therapists to support best practice and highlight service innovation. I also maintain professional networks with key organisations and government departments and represents the College of Occupational Therapists at key influencing events related to older people and long term conditions.



Accessed on 14.08.2014

  • Steptoe, Demakakos & de Oliverira (2012). The psychological wellbeing and health functioning of older people in England. The Dynamics of Ageing: Evidence from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing 2002-10