How To Choose The Right Care Home For A Loved One

In an ideal world we would always keep our loved ones close; our elderly parents would be able to see out their days in the home they cherish, and our spouse would always be beside us - in sickness and in health - whatever the circumstances. But unfortunately our world isn’t always ideal. What are we to do if our parents are no longer as safe in their own home due to age and ill health? What if someone we love is displaying increasing signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s and they need more regular or round the clock care? The time will inevitably come for some of us that we have to have a conversation or make a decision about the professional care options that are open to us. It could be that your elderly loved one is in a position to have plenty of input and opinions to give, or it could be that you have to do the bulk of the decision-making yourself. Either way, if the decision has been made that it is time to consider a care home for your loved one, how do you choose the right one?


The clue is largely in the title ‘Care Home’; and the ‘caring’ and ‘homely’ aspect of anywhere you look at is going to be of paramount importance. Of course there is a lot more to think about than just that: Would you have to travel far to visit? Does it have a good reputation? What about the costs involved?....How do you choose the right care home?

Talk It Through - With any luck your family member is able to be a part of the decision making, and if that’s the case you will want to make sure that the care home is going to meet all of their personal requirements. Location, facilities and activities might be incredibly important to them. Maybe they have a place in mind already after hearing recommendations from friends, or perhaps they need a home that will allow them to bring their pet. If your elderly relative is less able to make these decisions then there will be things to consider as a family; such as visiting times, how close it is to your own home, can specialist care be provided for a specific health problem. It will all come down to deciding what features are ‘essential’ and what are ‘desirable’ and finding somewhere that has a healthy balance.

Make Lists - Once you’ve all discussed your specific requirements you can make a shortlist of those homes that meet them. There will be care services directories you can access and you’ll be able to filter through and pick out those that are worth investigating further. If the care home has a website it is always worth browsing through so you can get more of a feel for how they operate before adding them to your list of ‘possibles’. You’ll also want to make a list of questions to ask once you have narrowed down your list of options. Questions such as?


  • What are the specific costs involved - what is included in the fees, and what are ‘extras’?
  • What activities are on offer?
  • Do residents have access to TV and internet? Are these facilities shared or in their rooms?
  • What is the food like - is there a fixed menu every week or does it vary? Are meals delivered pre-prepared, or cooked on-site using fresh ingredients?
  • What is the staff to patient ratio?
  • When can we visit our loved one?
  • Is there palliative care available if your loved one has an incurable health condition?

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but they are some important questions you might want to consider.

Read The Inspection Reports - The UK has four watchdogs whose job it is to inspect care homes and compile reports on facilities and care providers. These reports are public property and can give great insight into how a care home is managed and what level of care is on offer. You will be able to use those reports to see if:


  • Inspections have been frequent - this could indicate problems that need to be checked on again and again
  • Staff turnover is high - this could indicate unhappy staff who aren’t motivated of feeling valued enough within their role to stick around for very long
  • Points that inspectors have raised have been addressed, or whether they appear again on subsequent reports

Again, this is not an exhaustive list of what you may be able to find out from inspection reports, but much as you would do when choosing a school for your child, reading up on the findings of those bodies in the know can be a big help when making a final decision. Of course, it’s not just about what the experts think….

Personal Recommendations - A personal recommendation from a happy customer is invaluable when it comes to choosing any product or service - and care homes are no different. It’s all very well and good reading glowing inspection reports and hearing how Jackie down the road’s mum loves it there - but hearing those words from ‘mum’ herself make them all the more relevant. If you know someone who already has a relative in a care home, see if it’s possible to get in touch and talk to them about their experience.

Getting In Touch - You probably have a few places on your list now that you want to take a closer look at, so it’s worth giving those homes a call and talking to the manager to enquire about the availability of places, and the costs; this will help you to cross any off your list that don’t have spaces or are out of your price range. You may want to ask them to send you a brochure and a breakdown of pricing etc before you make an appointment to visit. Ideally visit the care homes with the family member who will be potentially residing there, but if that’s not possible keep them well informed and take notes during your visit if necessary - are they any questions they specifically want to know the answer to? Can you show them the website or brochure before you go? It’s important that elderly relatives who are cognitively capable don’t feel that the decisions have been completely taken out of their hands.

Most of us, at some point in our lives will have some experience of choosing a care facility for a loved one, and a difficult decision though it may be, it will be an even harder transition for the relative who will be giving up the home they have probably spent many happy years in. If you can make that change as smooth and stress-free as possible by doing plenty of research and finding somewhere to suit your loved one’s needs, there’s no reason why they won’t feel just as happy and secure in their new home for many years to come.
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