Choosing the right care home

Five residents in a retirement homePic: Alamy

When an elderly parent or relative becomes unable to safely live in their own home, a care home may be the best option. Unfortunately, some homes have been making headlines for all the wrong reasons.

So can you check that your relative will be well looked after and happy? Here are a few tips on finding the right care home.

Choosing a home
What type of care home you look into will depend on the type of care needed. While a retirement village or assisted living may be fine for those that simply require the added security of help with day-to-day tasks, those that need medical care will need a home with nursing staff, and in some cases such as dementia, those staff may need specialist training and qualifications.

Visit the home
When you know what kind of home you are looking for, it's a good idea to visit several. If possible, try to take your relative with you to view the home - their reaction to the surroundings, staff and other residents will give you a good idea of whether they will settle in happily.

First impressions aren't always right, of course, but your instincts and initial views should be taken into account. The way you are greeted, the decor, surroundings and location are all factors to take note of. If the home seems like a warm and friendly environment, it is often a good sign.

As you are shown around the home, try to notice how the existing residents are dressed, interacting with both staff and other residents, and whether they seem alert and relaxed. Are they well-groomed? Are some residents involved in activities, or simply left to watch TV? Are the chairs and/or tables arranged in groups to encourage chatting and activities? All these things should be noted.

It is also worth asking to see a recent inspection report to gain details of how well the home operates.

The facilities themselves are of the utmost importance. Suitably wide access for wheelchairs or walking frames, with adapted toilets and baths for disabled or partially disabled people are a must.

Try to see a variety of bedrooms, and ask whether a choice might be available, for instance, if your relative prefers a sunny or shady spot. Are there ensuite facilities, and if not, are there toilets within easy reach of the bedrooms? For many elderly people who are moving to a care home, some personal possessions or furniture can really help them to settle in, so do ask whether that is encouraged.

Day-to-day life
Considering how your elderly relative's everyday life will be is a major factor in choosing a care home. No matter what their health problems, communication and interaction, activities and even exercise can help them to settle in and feel relaxed and happy.

Ask the staff or manager about what daily activities are available, whether outings or entertainment are sometimes on offer, and how special events such as birthdays, Easter or Christmas are celebrated with the residents.

Similarly, are residents able to listen to music or the radio if they wish? And are they able to go to a quiet room or garden to read or for a little peace?

Just as important though, is whether visitors are encouraged to visit at any time. You may want to find out whether staff are happy (depending on care needs) for you to take your relative out for the day or join the residents for a meal.

Perhaps most important in a care home is the staff. Aside from having the proper training and qualifications, which you should check if necessary, try to get an idea of how the staff interact with the residents. Are they friendly and cheerful while helping residents with physical tasks? Do they take time where possible to chat, and are they aware of residents' interests and backgrounds? Are they cheerful in helping residents in situations such as going to the toilet, allowing them dignity whilst keeping them safe?

If the answer to above is yes, then they should be happy to answer any questions you may have, and understand your concerns, so do not be afraid to ask, and take a checklist when you visit so that you can remember everything you wanted to see or ask.

Last but very much not least, do check exactly what is included in the fees, and find out what happens if residents are unwell or require medical attention.

Have you recently had to make the decision to put a relative into a care home? What advice would you give to others about choosing a home? Leave your comments below...
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