If a loved one needs residential or nursing care, several factors should be considered to ensure the right home is found for them. Dan Parton reports.

In this article:

  1. Barry’s story
  2. Care assessment
  3. What to look for

Barry’s story

When a serious stroke left Barry Welsh paralysed down one side, his wife Jenny committed to caring for him. But 6 years later, 2 further minor strokes left Barry with needs that were too much for Jenny to cope with at home.

They agreed the best option was for Barry to move into a nursing home, so Jenny set about finding the right home for him.

Jenny’s first criteria was to ensure the home could cope with Barry’s healthcare needs; he requires a hoist to be moved around, regular turning in the night to avoid pressure sores and is doubly incontinent, so any nursing home would need to be able to cope with this.

But Jenny also knew that finding the right home was not just about the quality of physical care, it also had to have the right ethos; Barry has always been a jovial man, so to find a place where people were relaxed and like to laugh and joke was almost as important.

Jenny was already aware of many of the care homes in her local area; Barry had stayed in several for respite care in the past few years and she had also arranged care for her parents some years earlier.

This made the selection process easier and the Welshes settled on Friston House in Rochester, Kent, one of the homes where Barry had previously stayed for respite.

“It’s the best I’ve encountered and they [the carers] are really good with him,” Jenny says. “In the night he has to be turned and the sister said it takes 4 of them to turn him, that sort of thing."

“They have a lot of entertainers come in, that was another reason why I liked it. Barry likes to tell jokes and this sort of environment for him is wonderful.”

Barry adds that he is happy in Friston House. “It has one or two faults, but you can’t be perfect everywhere,” he says. “They’ve got great nurses here, I can have a laugh and a joke with them, which is always nice, especially when you’re on your own. And they’re very caring.”

Care assessment

But while Jenny knew what Barry needed, many people have little idea what to look for. Lizzie Feltoe from older people's charity Age UK says that a good starting point is finding out exactly what kind of care is needed, which can be done by undertaking a care assessment before looking at any care homes.

Anyone that appears to be in need of care services is entitled to a care assessment from their local authority – whether or not they have to pay for their own care. “That assessment from a social worker will be quite specific about what that older person’s needs are, what services could support the person most appropriately, and will give guidance on finding those services,” Lizzie says.

“If you do need to move into a care home it helps narrow down the options so you know whether you’re looking for a residential care home or a dementia care home, for example. It makes a lot easier; it cuts out half the homes in the area because you know they’re not going to be suitable.”

What to look for

But it is also important to consider what life is like in a potential home.

The best way to find out what a home is really like is to spend some time at potential homes, according to John Burton, a writer and former care homes inspector. “It is only by being in a place for a little while that you really know what its like,” he says.

John says that having a meal at the home, arranging for the prospective resident to spend a night there, or going in at busy times, such as during breakfast, can be illuminating.

“When I was an inspector… I always ate meals with residents [and] I’d go in at 8 o’clock in the morning and made sure I saw what was happening at breakfast time and how people were being got up.”

John adds that it is often the little touches that reveal the most about a care home. “You pick up a lot just by the way you are welcomed into a place. The thing that everyone knows is the smell – I would look for good smells, not the absence of smells. For instance, if you go in at 11am, when you’re near the kitchen or go into the dining room can you smell the dinner cooking?”

In addition, John recommends relatives look ‘behind the scenes’ in care homes, considering what the residents’ toilets are like and the state of the laundry room. “If you see piles and piles of laundry all chucked in together, it is unlikely to be a good place. Look for an ironing board and a laundry person who is really enjoying their work… people love having their clothes brought back nicely ironed, folded up, smelling nice and not shrunk.

“It is lots and lots of small things all put together, which is what everyday life is like.”