Changing rooms: Care home residents feel the benefits of choosing their own décor


  • Research indicates ‘Empowered’ care home residents feel happier and healthier by influencing their surroundings
  • Residents reveal surprisingly modern taste in artwork and plants
  • Study presents commercial benefits for care home operators
  • Findings support wider study into an empowered approach to space management

A new study carried out by Ambius and the University of Exeter found that a group of older adults in a care home felt healthier, happier and more satisfied with their lives through being empowered to influence their physical surroundings. The research, carried out in a home operated by Somerset Care, was initiated to investigate whether the trend for residents to retreat to their private space after disruption to their normal lives could be mitigated. It sought to explore whether it would be possible to encourage residents to make greater use of communal facilities after they moved to new accommodation following a re-development of the home.

Kenneth Freeman, international technical director at Ambius, comments, "Often, care home environments are developed and decorated using colours and décor that designers and managers deem appropriate. We wanted to find out what would happen if we consulted residents on these matters."

The Results

The communal areas of one floor of the residents' home were re-furnished with the residents' choice of plants and artwork supplied by interior landscapers, Ambius. Following the redesign, residents were asked to rate their health and wellbeing on a numerical scale at various times over a four month period. By the end of the study it was found that, in comparison to their peers, empowered residents:

  • Used their lounge more than twice as much (217% more)
  • Were 40% more satisfied with their lives
  • Were 46% more comfortable in their home
  • Reported themselves to be 43% healthier

A surprising aside

The residents empowered to decide on the décor of their home were seen to steer clear of floral patterns, chintz and pastel colours in favour of more modern art prints, bold colours and more 'architectural' plant displays. Although not tested, it has been mooted that these choices were made because bright, bold colours and shapes are highly visible against the background of the space, standing out for those whose visual senses may no longer be as sharp as they were when young.

Commercial benefit

The research may also be of commercial benefit to Somerset Care. Conventionally, first-floor accommodation is discounted compared with ground-floor rooms (which have easier access to the outside). However, because of its "buzzier" feel, new residents are now choosing first floor accommodation in preference to rooms on the ground floor. As a result, discounts can be reduced, or removed entirely.

Commenting on the findings, Care Home Manager for Somerset Care, Jackie Howells, remarks, "We could not have predicted the remarkable positive changes in our ‘empowered’ residents. As we are a not for profit organisation, we can now reinvest funds from the higher rates for ‘empowered’ spaces back into the care home to further extend the scheme and benefit more of our residents."

New White Paper published

A white paper by Ambius published today entitled "Health, happiness and higher returns’" provides further detail on the significance of this project. The research is part of a wider body of work from The University of Exeter in collaboration with Ambius to understand how offering individuals the chance to influence their surroundings could impact their health, productivity and wellbeing.

Kenneth Freeman concludes: "The findings of this study back up the wider discovery that those ‘empowered’ to control the aesthetics of their surroundings can feel dramatically healthier and happier."

The Ambius whitepaper, "Health, Happiness and Higher Returns" is available on request.

See our other white papers.

*About the research "Health, Happiness and Higher Returns"

The opportunity to conduct the research came when residents previously accommodated on two floors in an existing home, were moved onto the corresponding floors in a new facility on the same site. This gave the opportunity to conduct a natural experiment.

Residents were in two conditions:

a) (Control – Ground floor home) moving with all the care that the Care Body can provide (including one-to-one staff-to-resident attention and involvement of the families).

b) (Empowered condition – First floor home) as above but residents are allowed to choose and locate pictures and plants within their home’s social areas.

Measurements were taken at three points (phases) over a four month period. Details below describe the start and end points of the process. The numbers compare empowered participants with those in the control condition:

  • By the end of the study empowered participants were three times happier with their decorations than their fellow residents in the control condition (compared to being 12% happier at the start of the process).
  • They were also 46% more comfortable (compared to being 17% more uncomfortable at the beginning).
  • 40% more satisfied with their life (compared to 16% less satisfied at the outset)
  • They reported themselves to be 43% healthier (47% unhealthier at the start)
  • They appeared to the staff to be 16% healthier (compared to 2% healthier at the outset)
  • They used their lounge more than twice as much (217% more, compared to 27% less at the outset). This indicates far degrees of social interaction amongst the empowered residents.

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