Finding a care home for a relative who has dementia. How easy is it to find a good care home?

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If you have a parent or relative with dementia, they’re likely to need round-the-clock care at some point. That may mean they have to go into a care home. What should you look for when you’re finding a care home for a relative who has dementia – and what questions should you ask?

Finding a care home for a relative who has dementia

If you’re having to contemplate finding a care home for your parent or other relative because they have dementia, it’s a much better idea to do some research so you know what’s available before things get to the ‘crisis’ point. Not all people with dementia reach a crisis point before they go into a care home, but I’ve seen or been told about this a lot. Making a decision about the best care home is hard enough as it is, without having to do it in a hurry.

So, have a look at what’s available. There’s lots of information online and I’ve added some useful links at the bottom of this article.

The next steps will depend on the person with dementia and who is arranging care:

  • Can the person with dementia be involved? It’s a good idea to involve them in the decision as much as possible, but it may not be possible.

SAVVY TIP: If you’re taking the lead in finding a home, the Alzheimer’s Society recommends visiting the home on your own initially and then later with your relative who has dementia, if you can. This may not be possible if the person doesn’t understand why they’re going to the care home or is reluctant to leave their own home.

  • Make a list: Draw up a list of things that are important before you start looking at care homes.

SAVVY TIP: You can find out how a care home is rated by the independent Care Quality Commission by going to its website. You can also search for care homes by postcode and rating.

  • Visit at least three different homes: There may not be many homes in your area that you feel are suitable, but it’s worth looking at several to see how they compare.

SAVVY TIP: If you can’t take your relative with you once you’ve found a home you think they’ll like, find out if they can try it for a week or two before you make the final decision, advises Chris Cain of Grace Care, which specialises in helping people find the right care home for their needs.

What to check when you go to visit a care home

If you’re going to see a care home, there are certain things you should check. Not all care homes are suitable for people who have dementia.

  • The care home should be clean and have good facilities. Having said that, it’s often the attitude of the staff that can make the biggest difference. Good care doesn’t have to be more expensive.
  • Ask how many staff are qualified in dealing with people with dementia: Qualifications alone aren’t enough, but if staff don’t understand the needs of someone with dementia they’re unlikely to be able to provide the best care.
  • Watch how staff interact with residents. Do they talk to them or over them? Do they treat the residents with respect? I’ve been into a number of care homes – both good and bad. In the good ones I’ve seen staff treat residents not only with respect but with real affection. For the person with dementia, the staff become their ‘family’, so it’s important that they have the right attitude.
  • Is there a varied programme of activities? Does the care home have a range of activities designed to stimulate the mind and to tap into memories that are still strong? This can be anything from painting, singing, listening to live music (bands with a wartime theme or choirs are quite popular), or bringing in ‘pets as therapy’ dogs.

SAVVY TIP: Some care homes seem to regard activities as an optional extra. But stimulation and activities can be really important to someone with dementia (as they are to everyone).

  •     How is the home set out? It can be very frightening and disorientating for someone with dementia to move to an unfamiliar place. The care home’s design        should help residents find their way around.

SAVVY TIP: Some homes use different coloured doors for residents’ bedrooms to help them identify where they are or use colour coding for different areas of the home. Residents’ rooms should have their name on the door (not just a number) and something like a picture that’s important to the person with dementia.

  • Can residents go outside into the garden? EMI (elderly mentally infirm) units in care homes tend to be locked. However, it’s really important that they get access to a garden or outside space, if they want it. Some care homes I’ve been to have courtyard gardens that residents can go into and out of as they please during the summer months. Others control access to the outside space more rigidly.
  • How much information are you asked to provide? A good care home will ask for information about your relative; not just their current likes and dislikes but about the job they used to do, whether they liked travel and hobbies or interests that are or were important to them.

SAVVY TIP: If the main carer asks for the ‘life story’ of your relative, that’s a good sign. But the information should be used in conversation and interaction, not left to gather dust on a shelf.

Care homes and waiting lists

Good care homes may have a waiting list, which may be a problem if your relative needs to move into a home quickly. However:

It’s better to find a good care home first time round than have to move your relative later on.

Get onto the waiting list and be persistent. Don’t assume that the care home will automatically contact you when a place comes free. Check regularly.

Useful links:
The charity Independent Age, which aims to help older people and their carers has a section on choosing a care home.

The Alzheimer’s Society has a wealth of information on its website including a booklet called Putting Care Right on choosing a care home and information on Selecting a Care Home .

Related articles:

Who pays if your relative needs to go into a care home?

Care options in your own home – arranging care for an elderly relative who can’t manage on their own

Can you give away your home to avoid paying care fees?

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