Supporting the emotional well-being of a resident is top priority in assisted living.

Supporting the Residents’ Emotional Well-Being in Assisted Living Care

Many residents are admitted to assisted living because they can no longer live independently and may even need professional care for long-term or chronic conditions and illnesses. There are also those who may be admitted temporarily for professional rehabilitory care after a major surgery, such as knee or hip replacement.

Part of quality assisted living care is establishing an individualized healthcare plan that treats and promotes positive progress for the residents’ medical conditions or diagnoses. These plans attempt to hit all aspects of care, including physical, cognitive, and occupational skills.

In addition to these basic components, it is equally important to consider the emotional foundation as well. It is widely known that having a positive attitude and outlook on life can aid in the body’s physical health and recovery. A University of Pittsburgh revealed that from a sample of 97,000 women, the most cheerful were 30% less likely to die of heart disease, while another 14% were less likely to die from other common diseases.

Assisted Living Education reviews some factors, common therapies, and other activities to consider in supporting the emotional well-being of your residents.

Factors to Fight Against

Many elderly individuals face a lot of challenges as they age: increasing aches and pains, developing or worsening health issues, loss of friends and relatives, and some cognitive issues as well. Some take it in stride but for others, it can severely affect their outlook on life.

Though depression is said to affect 6 million Americans over the age of 65, it is not a normal progression of age. In elderly individuals, depression is often a diagnosed comorbidity with another condition or disease, such as coronary artery disease (CAD) or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Besides some of the factors we mentioned above, there are additional elements that can also lead to depressive episodes as well.

Loss of Independence

For some residents, especially the long-term ones, it can be frustrating needing to depend on others for help and facing the loss of independence they once had. There may be restrictions on certain activities, foods, and certainly where and when they are able to go places. These frustrations and the loss of independence itself can be triggers for depression in elderly residents.

The loss of independence can also elicit feelings of uselessness, loss of control, and even fear, anger, guilt, and confusion. Many elderly are used to certain routines and have probably had more control in designing their own schedules. Any kind of change can take some time to process, and switching environments and lifestyles is a major change which will likely require an overhaul in their daily norm.


For some, being admitted to an AL facility can seem like an isolating event. In addition to losing their independence, individuals may feel cut off from friends and family in their new environment. For those without close friends or family, it may reinforce or enhance an already lonely situation being removed from their home community.

Be sure to consider these in evaluating an individual and their emotional state; it can help inform what strategies and activities would be most beneficial in promoting their well-being.

New Opportunities

With each new admission, we can take this as an opportunity to help the residents create a new lifestyle or routine that they might enjoy.

The staff at an assisted living facility often become like family to residents, especially for those who have few or even no visitors. Consequently, it is up to those staff members and its administration to encourage a nurturing, community environment for the overall welfare of the residents.

Another important way to help residents is to encourage them to participate in activities to fill their day. Many assisted living facilities do take an “interest inventory” of each new resident to match them with different, desired activities.

The following is a list of activities that prove to be most satisfying and most accessible for elderly residents.

Pet Therapy

Pet Therapy is a favorite among residents and staff alike. A visit from a trained dog, cat, or even guinea pig can bring a smile to anyone’s face. Residents who feel lonely or may have difficulty verbalizing or communicating can find affection and love in a furry friend. The reduced expectation to engage verbally can lower anxiety levels in these kinds of social situations. Additionally, the texture of the animal’s coat can be tactilely pleasing and the appearance can elicit the “cute response,” an instinctive desire to nurture based on certain physical features.  

If the resident is ambulatory, having them walk a dog (with supervision) can also provide a sense of purpose and satisfaction.

Music & Dance

Music is another excellent way to promote social interaction. It’s a way for people to come together and enjoy each other’s company without the pressure of having to verbalize or completely engage in direct interactions.

As we discussed in a previous blog feature on Glen Campbell, music has an almost magical way of revitalizing an individual and bringing them back to a different time and place. This is because music is processed in multiple areas of the brain. Even for those with late-stage dementia, it can still elicit a response from the areas of the brain that have not yet been affected (or affected as severely).

Especially with residents who were musicians or dancers by trade or hobby, music is so ingrained that they are often able to recall the lyrics, the moves, or how to play their favorite instrument.

The famous neurologist, Dr. Oliver Sacks and others have described how music can encourage memory, a faster recovery time, and the ability to regain speech (in certain circumstances) is accomplished quicker.

Everyone can enjoy music – whether you have ambulatory residents able to get up and dance, or even non-ambulatory residents who can just be there and listen or watch the others – it truly is a simple but meaningful social experience.

Art Therapy

Like music, art has a way of enhancing physical and cognitive connections and improving the emotional state of an individual. Even for residents experiencing memory loss, art has proven to strengthen or help sustain cognitive and memory function by necessitating the dexterity to manipulate whatever medium is used.

Residents with advanced memory loss still enjoy participating in art, and may even find it as a way to express themselves when other faculties are deteriorating. Some research has suggested that individuals participating in creative outlets are sometimes able to use it as a way to communicate and connect with their world, thus encouraging a sense of belonging and purpose. Art can be an intrinsically rewarding and confidence-boosting activity.

In the right environment, art therapy can be a relaxing social activity with cognitive and emotional benefits.

Workshops, Classes, & Other Activities

Engaging workshops or classes can also be an enjoyable part of the day or week. As mentioned before, art, music, and dance activities are always popular. Depending on the cognitive abilities and interests of the residents, setting up workshops or classes to learn or enjoy focused time on an activity.

Workshops on technology, such as using an iPad or notebook, a laptop, or smartphone are useful for the residents’ own entertainment or keeping connected with family and friends. Gardening brings much joy, nurturing a plant from seed to bloom. This can be an especially fun and rewarding way to access nature in an assisted living environment. Visits from local youth groups, schools, or other community organizations can bring a positive energy, socialization time, and a sense of companionship for elderly residents.

There are many options to engage residents in a meaningful and productive way. As always, be sure there is team and supervisor approval before introducing a resident to a new activity.


Assisted Living Education is committed to improving a positive quality of life in assisted living through proper, relevant education and training. We specialize in RCFE certifications, online courses, and continuing education. For more information, explore our website, or visit our contact page to reach us directly.

About Assisted Living Education
Assisted Living Education has been operating in and improving the growing senior care industry for over 15 years. Founded by certified RCFE administrators, Jane Van Dyke-Perez and Bill Perez, we have licensed more than 1,100 assisted living facilities and built close relationships with the California Department of Social Services, assisted living managers, owners and industry professionals. As senior living care educators ourselves, we strive to contribute our knowledge and skills to continually improve senior care and the satisfaction of those working in the industry.