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Being occupied: supporting ‘meaningful activity’ in care homes for older people in England


The benefits of meaningful activity in later life are well documented. Studies show that being occupied contributes to both physical and mental health as well as quality of life. Research also suggests that activity may be beneficial to people residing in care homes, including people living with dementia. This paper presents findings from a study which used the Adult Social Care Outcomes Toolkit (ASCOT) to measure quality of life in six care homes located in the south-east of England. The study found, like previous ones, that care home residents’ days were characterised by a lack of activity. Drawing on observations, interviews and focus groups with residents and staff from these homes, this paper attempts to understand why care home residents do not engage in meaningful activities. We reject the idea that these low levels of activity are a natural part of the ageing process or that they can be explained by notions of resident choice. Instead, the findings point to both insufficient funding and working practices within care homes as more substantive explanations. These explanations inform a discussion of how the low levels of engagement in meaningful activity could be addressed and residents’ quality of life improved.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Nick Smith, Personal Social Service Research Unit, George Allen Wing, Cornwallis Building, The University of Kent, Canterbury CT2 7NF, UK E-mail:
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Ageing & Society
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