Purpose – Dementia care is an issue of increasing policy focus, with person centred approaches becoming synonymous with quality provision in this area. However, the implementation and efficacy of this approach is difficult to measure and there are still huge variations in working practices, with task centred approaches traditionally predominating over more holistic forms of care. In order to address these issues the procedure of dementia care mapping has been developed, which aims to assess the wellbeing of people with dementia and other vulnerable groups through the observation of communal activities. This article aims to critically assess the implementation of a person centred approach. Design/methodology/approach – With the use of dementia care mapping, this article assesses the implementation of a person centred approach with a group of care home residents. All were female, their ages ranged from 77 to 92. Findings – It is shown that while participants potentially experienced many benefits from person centred approaches and the social engagement and integration that derived from this, its efficacy and impact was undermined by contextual factors such as staff shortages. Originality/value – In order that contextual factors are recognised and addressed, practice should transcend its focus on the promotion of individual wellbeing and address the wider group and social contexts which can facilitate or prevent its fulfilment.