What to look for when choosing a care home: questions to ask and how to prepare

We've put together a guide about how to support your loved one with the process of looking for the right care home, funding care costs, some questions you might like to ask when visiting care homes, as well as tips for moving and settling into a new care home.

Moving into a care home can be a worrying time for both the resident and family members, it’s one of the most difficult and important decisions you can make. There can often be a number of reasons why a care home might be a good option to consider such as increased care needs, because of a crisis, or to provide support for the resident and family.

Sometimes it can feel like there is a never a right time to move into a care home, but being prepared with all the information can help to make the move easier for both sides, as well as helping you to settle in faster and making your new home, feel like home.

Arranging a move into a care home can feel like a daunting process, but we’re here to help and have put together a checklist of questions to ask and some tips on what you can do to give you confidence you’ve made the right choice.

Supporting your loved one when looking for a care home

One of the most important things you can do is involving your loved one with the process. Starting the conversation about moving into a care home early, before there’s a crisis or emergency will help ease the pressure and reduce anxiety. Giving yourself enough time to listen to your loved one, respecting their wishes, and taking their concerns into account along the way will help to make the transition easier. Remember to be patient, and know that it might take many conservations over a period of time before they’re ready.

Finding the right home and care needs assessments

Once you’re ready, the first step is finding the right home. There are many things to consider here, if you are looking for a loved one you need to think about location and the level of their care needs. If you’re not sure how much care your loved one will need, you can have a care needs assessment from your local council which will help determine how well they cope with everyday activities and the type of care they will need.

At Abbeyfield we offer three types of care homes; residential care homes, dementia friendly care homes, and nursing homes. Below we describe the key features about the types of care we offer.

Funding your care home costs

When thinking about moving into a care home, one of the most important things to factor in is the cost and how you will fund the care. Social care can be expensive, so it’s worth doing the needs assessment, as it is free and anyone can ask for it. If the needs assessment finds your loved ones needs care, they will have a financial assessment to see if the council will help pay towards the costs. Which? offers a guide on financing later life care, where you can find out more about funding options for care and care homes, information on how much care costs, and how you can apply for financial help.

The UK Government announced that from October 2023, there will be an £86,000 cap on the amount anyone in England will need to spend on their personal care over their lifetime. Find out more on the planned Adult social care charging reform on the gov.uk website.

Qualifying for financial support from your council

Depending on what the needs assessment says, you could be eligible for support from the council in covering some, or all, of the care costs. If the council will pay towards your care, they will do a means test (financial assessment) where they’ll work out how much they will pay towards the cost of your care.

Even if the council arranges your care it’s important to remember that you have the right to decide how the money is spent and also have the right to choose where you live. If the care home you would like to live in is more expensive than the money that the council has put in your personal budget, family and friends can pay the difference and this is called a top up fee. Find out more about when the council might pay for your care on the NHS website.

What happens if you don’t qualify from financial support from your council to fund your care costs?

If you don’t qualify with help from the council, you can fund the care costs yourself and you’ll have more care home options to choose from as you’re paying for the care yourself. However, if you don’t agree with your council’s decision to not pay for your care services, MoneyHelper has written a guide on how to challenge your local council over your care costs.

Will I have to sell my home to pay for care home fees?

You might have to sell your home unless your partner or any other qualifying dependant continues to live there. However, there are some other ways you can have the money to pay for your fees if you don’t want to sell straight away.

Consider:

  • renting out your home to use the money generated to help fund your care home costs or
  • releasing money from your home – equity release – Age UK offers some advice on equity release, including the advantages and disadvantages, and what the risks are.

Visiting care homes

Now you’ve shortlisted some care homes to visit, you might want to bring a list of questions to ask whilst you’re there.

Some questions you might like to ask:

  • When can residents have visitors?
  • What will the care plan look like?
  • Will the care home be suitable to meet your loved one’s needs for a long period of time?
  • What activities are there for residents?
  • Do you offer a trial stay?
  • Do you allow pets?
  • What will the room look like or what types of room are on offer? What furniture will the room have? What kinds of personal items can we bring from home?
  • How much does it cost and what will the cost include?
  • Does the monthly price increase yearly?
  • Do you cater for special dietary requirements?
  • Are meals cooked at the home?
  • What hours do the staff work?
  • Do you provide a laundry service?
  • Is the cleaning of the resident room included in the price?
  • Can family or friends stay overnight?
  • Is there internet access?
  • Are there en-suite facilities?
  • Is the care home accessible?
  • Does the care home have a garden?
  • Are there other health professionals who come to the care home i.e GPs, nurses, dentists, opticians?
  • Can residents cook/ wash for themselves if they wish?
  • What security is there for residents?

Some other questions you might want to ask yourself when visiting homes:

  • Can you imagine yourself or loved one living there?
  • Does it feel homely?
  • Does it feel safe?
  • Does it feel friendly?

We have added these questions in a document which you might like to bring along on your visit, with some space to write some of your own questions, so you don’t forget once you get there.

Download our care home questions checklist

Visiting the care homes gives you the chance familiarise yourself with the home, get to know the staff and for the staff to get to know your loved one, and see the facilities they offer at each home. You’ll also get a chance to see and speak to the residents, see what the rooms are like, ask what is included in the rooms and know what you’re allowed to bring with you.

You should ask if the home does a trial stay, as it’s a good way to know if the home is right for you and your loved one without committing.

Some care homes may offer respite care stays which can provide carers with a chance to have a break. This is also another option for trying out a home to see if it is suitable for your loved ones needs, without committing to long term residential care.

At Abbeyfield we have a number of care homes which offer respite care stays which include:

  • 24/7 care support from our qualified and friendly staff
  • Daily activities
  • Nutritious meals served daily (dietary requirements can be catered for)
  • Housekeeping and linen service

Tips for preparing to move into a care home

You’ve done your research and found the right home for your loved one, but moving into a home can be an emotional time for both families and their loved one. It can be difficult getting into a new routine in a care home; getting used to being in a new place, seeing lots of new faces – from the staff at the care home and the current residents - and maybe moving to a new location, but that’s ok as this is a big step and a life changing experience.

Pack your favourite items to make it feel like home

In most care homes you can bring personal items with you like photos, pieces of furniture, treasured possessions, which you can use to decorate your room to make it feel like home. In the process of choosing what to bring, you’ll probably be thinking about downsizing, as moving into a smaller living space will mean you won’t necessarily have enough space for everything such as clothing and furniture.

Downsizing and deciding what to bring

Getting ahead and deciding what to do with your personal belongings early and sorting through everything you own will be helpful in your preparation in moving into a new home. Don’t underestimate how much time decluttering and downsizing might take. Read our guide on downsizing for more information.

What should I do if I have a pet when moving into a care home?

If you have a pet, you should check in advance with the care home whether you can bring it with you, if it can visit, or if you’ll need to rehome it. If the care home doesn’t allow pets perhaps a family member can look after your pet or you might have to look at putting your pet up for adoption. Charities like The Cinnamon Trust are also worth getting in touch with as they can provide long term care for pets whose owners have moved into a care home which doesn’t accept pets.

Important things to remember:

  • Bring all medication with you.
  • Make sure staff make a note of everything you brought in with you.
  • Bring any aids in with you like walking sticks, glasses and hearing aids.
  • Bring a list of contacts so you’ll be able to stay in touch with family and friends.
  • Make sure you label your clothes.
  • Notify all the relevant people and organisations that your address has changed – council, bank, GP, utility companies, friends, family.

Settling into a care home

For someone living independently in their own home, moving into a care home can be an upsetting time. Some people settle in quickly and enjoy their new surroundings, but for other people it can take time to adjust. Take time with your loved ones during the move to make it a positive experience.

When first going to the room where your loved one will be staying, start unpacking to make it feel like home. Put out pictures, hang up your clothes and lay out your trinkets. Then go round the house and explore the new surroundings. You could take your loved one to see the dining room, garden or lounge and maybe introduce yourselves to other residents.

Remember to speak to the members of staff, as they will want to know how they can help, as well as knowing how your loved one would like to be looked after. For example, if you have a daily routine or have things you like to do, let the staff know so they can fit in with your routine.

Make sure your loved one keeps in touch with family and friends. Even if you can’t always visit often there are plenty of ways to stay connected. You could get them a mobile phone, or ask if they can have a phone in their room, give them a tablet or laptop, and if the home has WiFi, do video calls together. We have a guide on how to make video calls.

Encourage your loved one to let staff know about their favourite foods, go to activities or meetings, and continue to get out and about exploring the house, as it’s a great way to meet and get to know other residents.

Moving into a new home with new people, might take some time, but that will change once you get used to all the new people and the new environment.

Next steps

Tips for settling into your retirement home

At Abbeyfield, we want new residents to feel at home as quickly as possible, so we’ve put together a few tips, as suggested by our residents, to help you settle in quickly.

Moving into a care home

Moving to a care home can be an emotional time but making plans early and getting the information and advice you need will help make any changes much easier and less stressful.

Beginning the conversation

Conversations about health, care, managing of finances and moving home are not everyday topics and lots of us don’t feel confident when bringing them up. However, it’s important to have these conversations so you can ensure that your loved ones are thinking about the future and know you are there to help.

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