- Finding the right care home can be challenging as many of the better ones are likely to be full much of the time. This can be a real problem if your situation is urgent, and you may need to place yourselves on several lists so you can at least consider alternative homes if waiting for your preferred choice is taking too long. You may also wish to consider building a relationship with your favoured home whilst awaiting a vacancy, this could mean arranging daycare or respite stays until a vacancy arises. This could relieve some of the pressure on the family keeping your relative safe whilst you are at work, for example.
- It is usually a good idea to visit as many care homes as you are able as we all have very different philosophies and ‘feel’ quite different. You will instantly know whether your relative will feel comfortable and relaxed although you will have to make very sure that the home of choice will be able and willing to meet the long-term needs as a move later should be avoided if possible. As indicated above, if you are able to find 3 or 4 homes that should meet your requirements, adding yourselves to their waiting list costs nothing and at least keeps your options open.
- Whilst travelling distances are important, it is worth remembering that your relative will be there, often 24 hours a day for much of the rest of their lives. It is therefore much more important that they are going to be happy and feel at home there. It is also important to weigh up who is likely to visit most, friends, family member etc. both long term and short term as this may also impact on the choice of home.
- When choosing the home please ask lots of questions, it will help the home as well as you because it enables us to see what is important to you. This in turn can often lead us to identify areas that will really help with the big changes occurring in your relatives life. It may be helpful to write a list before coming, although you can always ring to ask the questions you missed when visiting.
- When looking around homes, use your nose! It is a sad and slightly bizarre truth that even today some of the less well run homes still have a distinctive unpleasant aroma of urine, sometimes masked by of cleaning products but often just raw urine. To me this is a clear sign of poor management. I would not wish to work in a public toilet all day; I certainly would not wish my mother to live in one.
- Don’t make promises that you may not be able to keep. ‘I will visit every day’ or ‘this is just until you are better’ are not helpful as they may well be unrealistic and have the effect of unsettling the new resident once they have arrived. They would much prefer to be able to trust you to tell them the truth, even if its harder to swallow at the time. The feelings of guilt often associated with residential care are both unjust and unnecessary as the right home can liberate the elderly from the parts of life they can no longer cope with freeing them up to enjoy their lives once again. Visiting is very difficult to advise about as each family does things in their own way. The only advice I feel able to give is try to start as you mean to continue. The temptation is to visit every day to begin with, having started this routine it is very hard to reduce and can quickly become exhausting and resented. It is better to aim to visit in a similar way to pre-crisis, remembering that most new residents quickly make new friends within their new home. Many people within the care industry will recommend that a few days grace is given avoiding visiting in order to give a settling in period a chance, there is little evidence that this makes much difference and you know how you family works better than us, therefore do it your own way.
- Try to include your family member in all the decisions. If they are able to feel that they have influenced the situation they are much more likely to settle quickly and to enjoy what a care home has to offer. If there is a clear need but they remain reluctant, offering the choices in a limited way for example: ‘of these homes which did you like the best’ is easier to manage than ‘so would you like to try this one?’ as the answer could easily come back NO! Re-enforcing the truth that this is a month’s trial may help to reduce anxiety initially, but if the result is that they are unable to settle as they count down the days to the end of the trial is less helpful. It is a big change and a leap into the unknown is scary even if the end result is a big improvement in the quality of life, so if you are able to be understanding this will help everyone.
- Remember you are looking for a new home for a loved one, not a hotel for yourself, or for just a sterile safe box to place your parent in. It needs to feel as normal, friendly and homely as possible.
- Ask about the homes activities’ programme (by this I mean not just the bingo, but all the ways the day is punctuated, i.e. do staff have the time and permission to stop and chat, are the ladies or gentlemen given assistance to look and feel great throughout the day). This is much more important than you might think. If you think about what you enjoyed yesterday, the good bits are likely to be the bits with or involving other people rather than solo events, the same is true for older people. The giggle as you and a friend pinch an extra biscuit is worth much more than the T.V programme you might be watching.
- Most of us will only have to go through this process once, statistically its about one-in-three or four that will need this support, so you are are not alone in not being an expert. However we are all likely to know others that have been here before us. Talk with everyone you can about what might be needed soon, if they have either had a good experience or a bad one people will usually be only too happy to give advice. Most will only have limited relevance, but some will be really helpful.
- Don’t feel at all guilty about getting the help your parent or relative needs. Helping them to stay in their own home is right for some, but many people try to stay far too long, and are genuinely missing out on a safe, secure, friendly and fun future. The right home will enable your parent or loved one to live and enjoy the later years of their life, even if they are in many ways the most challenging. This change may also restore what can sometimes be a stressed relationship as we struggle to maintain our own lives and increasingly have to support relatives at the cost of putting our own futures on hold. By being able to pass the support element on to the care home, you can return to seeing your relative when you can give quality time and really enjoy each other’s company again.
- If you are not sure about how care is financed, there is a guide produced by Age UK that helps explain it clearly. Please click here to download.
Thank you for reading this short guide. If it has provoked questions please give me a call, I will be very happy to answer anything I can.
Marcus Lyward, Director of Court House