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Choosing care: What to look for in a care home

Posted on 16/02/2016

When it comes to choosing the right residential care setting for an elderly parent, there are a lot of things that you will need to think about. We recently did an article looking at the practical considerations of finding the right care home, which will help you to narrow down your choices.

When you have a shortlist of places, it’s time to arrange a viewing and see which one is the right fit. While a care home might look great on paper, there are a lot of things that you can’t tell without actually visiting.

Here we have put together a list of our top tips for visiting a care home and what to watch out for.

1. Use your nose

You can tell a lot about a residential setting by the smell of the place. Does it seem clean and fresh? Damp, for example, has a particular odour, and you can usually sense an air of neglect.

2. Arrive unexpectedly

Turn up at the door of your chosen care home on a Sunday morning unannounced, as this will give you the chance to see what the staffing is like and how receptive they are showing visitors around without prior notice.

3. Speak to the residents (if you can)

If you are able to, have a chat with some of the residents. You can find out more about what it is like to actually live in the home, as well as get a general impression about their welfare and happiness. It may also be possible to chat with a resident’s relatives and find out why they chose the place they did.

4. Watch interactions 

Look at how the staff showing you round the home interact with the residents. Do they speak to them? Do they know their names? Do they knock before entering a resident’s bedroom? This will give you an idea of how ‘hands-on’ the staff are, and how personal the care is.

5. View a couple of rooms

Ask to see a couple of different rooms in the complex if you are able to, as this shows you how much a resident is able to personalise their room and make it feel like home. All rooms looking identical can feel too clinical.

6. Note the room layouts

When you are walking around, have a look at the way that the furniture is arranged. Ideally this would be in a setup that is conducive for the residents to talk to each other, ie in small clusters. Watch out for layouts where everyone is sat around the outside of a room, making it easy for the staff.  

7. Enquire about activities

A good care home will have a range of activities happening every week, with people coming in to run different sessions or put on performances for the residents. This will give your parent a chance to interact with other residents, and also be physically and mentally active.

8. Check out the food

While you are there, ask to see a sample menu of the food served. If you are around at a mealtime, you may even be able to see the food itself, or try some to see what the quality and the variety is like. 

9. Don’t go alone

It is useful to have two pairs of eyes. While you are chatting to staff and asking questions, it is handy to have a friend or relative keeping an eye out for things that you might otherwise miss, and it’s good to have someone to discuss your thoughts with afterwards.

10. GP arrangements

A good care home will have a connection with a local GP to deal with residents’ health issues. It is worth asking if the GP comes into the home regularly, and whether there is an arrangement with the local pharmacy to get prescriptions made up and delivered quickly. This way you will know that if your parent falls ill, they will be seen to and treated fast.  

11. Added extras

Care homes are expensive, so take a look at any additional services that the home provides. For example, do they have any arrangements with other individuals or organisations to make life easier for the residents? This could be a hairdresser or a chiropodist who comes onsite to provide essential services. 

12. Trust your instincts

Even if you can’t put your finger on it, if a place feels wrong, then take it off your shortlist. When you find the right place you will know, and you will be able to see your parent living there comfortably.  

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