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Choosing the right care home

Many of us will, at some time in our lives, find ourselves in the difficult position of needing to choose a care home for a loved one, friend or relative. Searching for the right care home isn’t something we often experience before it becomes necessary, and it can be a daunting prospect. When the time comes, it can be stressful for everyone involved. Going into the experience feeling a little more prepared can make all the difference, and with this in mind here are a few tips on choosing the best possible setting to meet your loved ones needs.

Person-Centred Care

The very first step to choosing the right care home is to understand the individual needs of the person moving into the home. A residential setting, where most clients are still very independent, isn’t the best place for someone who may be suffering from dementia, for example. Not all homes cater for every physical and medical need, and emotional needs are important to consider as well. Many appropriate homes can be found through the recommendation of social services after an assessment, and often care homes will offer a home visit from a nurse or manager to assess needs and discuss whether their home is the best place for the client.

The Home Itself

Having decided on the level of care that’s appropriate, the next stage is choosing a place. It’s a very good idea to visit several potential care homes and bear several factors in mind. It’s fine to arrive with a list of questions you may have for the staff when you visit, and if you forget some it’s all right to call the home later to clarify or ask further questions.

It’s important to check the quality standards of each home you consider, which you can do by visiting the Care Quality Commission (CQC) website for adult homes and Ofsted for children’s homes, and downloading their latest reports.

You’ll also need to find out about the cost of care, what payment options are available to you and what’s included in that price. This will vary between homes, and the law is different depending on where in the UK you live. In England your part of the fees will be means-tested. Scottish residents can defer their fee payment, making a legal agreement that the state will pay and the bill will be settled with the resident’s estate. Find out more via your local authority’s website.

Consider location, especially bearing in mind whether the people likely to visit most can do so easily. Next arrange a visit at a time when you’re expected. Take note of everything your senses tell you. Does the home appear clean and inviting, inside and out? Notice whether you’re met at the door, and if not how long it takes for you to be acknowledged. Take notice of how the home smells when you walk in too. While some smells are understandable, especially in homes that care for people with complex medical needs, it shouldn’t be unpleasant or smell uncared for. Ask to view the menus, and if possible try some of the food. Make sure you view the sitting rooms, dining areas, a bedroom and the bathroom facilities to get a feel for what life might be like there. If it’s possible, and always ask first, talk to some of the residents to see how they feel about their home and level of care.

Social Needs

One of the most important things to take note of in care homes, as you’re visiting several, is the level of social activity and what might be termed pastoral care. Some homes are wonderful at organising activities, exercise groups, trips to the seaside and other opportunities for their residents. Others have regular sing-songs and bingo nights or might just be very good at including residents in the decisions related to their own day-to-day life. Yet others may have very little in the way of social activities, but you might find their staff are particularly good at stopping to talk with their residents. What you’re really looking for is the ways in which staff help residents stay as active as they choose, within appropriate levels for their needs.

The level of entertainment and enrichment you can expect from home to home will vary depending on the type of home they are and the enthusiasm of their staff, and the latter is key to the success of a care setting. A caring, happy member of staff can be the difference between a happy home and a depressing setting. It’s well worth noting the interaction between staff and residents, and between staff when no residents are around. A low staff turnover rate is also a good indicator of a happy care home, though this cannot be used as the only indication.

Second Visit

Before you make a final decision, or in order to narrow down the field once you’ve made a first visit to several homes, it’s a good idea to make a second visit to a care home. This time you should arrive without telling them beforehand. Don’t feel at all awkward about this, as strange as it may feel. A care home will be used to visitors arriving without calling first to see relatives and friends, and if you choose this home you’ll be doing the same very soon. On the first visit you may find everyone was on their best ‘visitor’ manners, so a second visit gives you the chance to see how the home feels when the staff aren’t as worried about that important first impression. This second visit may tell you a lot about the day-to-day atmosphere of a home and whether it will suit the personality of everyone involved. What you’re looking for here is how the home really runs when they’re not showing people around, and how what the staff tell you integrates with the reality of how the residents are cared for.

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