Two elderly men playing chess finding meaning in nursing home life

4 Ways to Create Meaning in Nursing Home Life

The health status of people living nursing home life is often complex. An average person only resides in the home for two years, and many come in after being exposed to traumatic events like the loss of their home, spouse, relatives or friends.

Eighty percent of nursing home residents suffer from dementia. These factors influence the residents’ quality of life on a daily basis while receiving institutionalized care, but a recent study illustrates ways to create meaning and purpose while living nursing home life. 

Study: Finding Meaning in Nursing Home Life

A recent study shows a focus on meaning and purpose can improve quality of life.  A sense of meaning and purpose contributes to the spiritual, functional and social well-being of nursing home life. A purpose in life refers to the pursuit of an intentioned or desired goal, while meaning refers to establishing coherence in one’s existence. They go hand-in-hand.

Having meaning and purpose in life makes the world intelligible, creates goals to strive for, work to perform, provides answers in difficult times and even someone to love.

From 2004 to 2005, a study was conducted in Norway. An exploratory design used qualitative interviews of 18 nursing home residents (11 women, seven men) between the ages of 77 and 92. The residents had to be capable of carrying on a conversation, residents in a nursing home for at least 6 months and not be diagnosed with dementia.

Two women sitting outside at a nursing home to improve quality of life

4 Major Takeaways to Create Meaning in Nursing Homes

Finding meaning and purpose in life in this situation can prove difficult. Based on qualitative interviews with 18 nursing home residents, this study explored experiences of meaning and purpose in their everyday life. Four key meaning-making experiences were discovered: physical and mental well-being, belonging and recognition, personally treasured activities and spiritual closeness. Essentially, the well-being of residents on a personalized basis should be a central focus of nursing home care.

Experiencing physical and mental well-being

Having a personal and gentle nurse-resident connection is essential to well-being. The qualities embedded in nursing care, clinical responsibilities and the nurse’s attitude and behavior have an impact on how the resident feels meaning and purpose. The study shows there is a strong link between the well-being of the patient and positivity and encouragement from nursing staff. Positive attitudes and affirmation from the care staff can instill hope for the future in patients.

Experiencing belonging and recognition

Having people to love and care for is a fundamental element in the nursing home experience. Love gives people life and purpose. For most people, these relationships are among family and friends. However, this study and previous others have shown that nurse-patient interaction are just as critical. Nurses can empower or disempower patients. Care providers should be aware that residents interpret their kindness and empathy as confirmation of their meaning and belonging.

Experiencing personally treasured activities

Treasured activities include going outdoors, getting exercise and taking pleasure in hobbies. Care personnel need to facilitate meaningful dialogues, get to know their patients, to gain a better understanding of their likes and dislikes. Similar to most people, nursing home residents also need to have alone time – valuable togetherness and sacred aloneness.

Experiencing spiritual connectedness and closeness

Faith that a higher being cares for one’s life and personal well-being represents an inner state of peace and meaning. As one interviewed resident said, “I pray to God that he will help me and he helps me. He never says no.” Knowing that a powerful God is listening to one’s prayers might strongly embody a source of social support, which has shown to significantly affect nursing home residents’ quality of life and coping.