Taking a risk can be beneficial to our health and well-being

Risky activities can benefit older people’s quality of life, and while nurses naturally want to prevent harm and safeguard, positive risk-taking can be good

Stroud care home resident Ruby Wakefield in the cockpit of a helicopter: positive risk-taking can boost health and well-being
Stroud care home resident Ruby Wakefield recently took to the skies for a helicopter ride

None of us lives a life without risk. We make decisions, even those that may be considered unwise, by weighing up any potential risks and benefits associated with our actions and behaviours.

We can usually be autonomous in our choices, and may dismiss the concerns of others, interpreting information in a way that suits our own narrative because the perception of risk is subjective, as is the perception of well-being and what matters most to us as individuals.

Yet for people who lack mental capacity, decision-making is far less straightforward.

In recent years, health and social care professionals have faced increasing pressure to assess and manage ‘risks’. Yet the word risk itself can be seen as negative and associated with harm, fear and anxiety.

Positive risk-taking is different from failing to acknowledge risk

Professionals from different backgrounds may work to differing definitions and understanding of risk, which can hinder the ability to identify, assess and manage risk with confidence.

Nurses may live in fear of something going wrong and be working in environments that apportion blame rather than focus on learning. As a result, we become risk averse which can be detrimental to the well-being of those in our care.

Preventing harm and safeguarding older people who are vulnerable are vital components of good nursing practice. Yet there is a tendency to prioritise the likelihood of immediate physical harm and to pay less attention to the emotional, psychological and social harms that can manifest in the absence of exposure to some level of risk.

Positive risk-taking is different from failing to acknowledge risk; it is part of a risk management strategy to minimise the risk of harm.

It is about understanding what is important to the person, having open and honest conversations and improved understanding about the wider risks to them and weighing up the potential harms and benefits. It is about good communication and shared decision-making that is person-centred and supports people to live well and maintain a good quality of life for as long as possible.

Further information

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