First, let me say that I am not an expert in choosing a care home for a loved one with dementia, as it is not something I have had to do myself.
However, what I do is train volunteers to spend time and provide meaningful companionship to care home residents. I volunteer in a care home myself visiting a lady with quite advanced dementia who has no other friends or relatives who visit. I also trained as a nurse many years ago and I worked as a staff nurse in a care home for a short time so I have experienced care homes from different perspectives.
It is difficult decision to choose to move a loved one into a care home, with so much emotion and potential anxiety attached to it. But, it’s not a bad decision, or a sign of failure.
Moving into a care home can be the best option, the right option, for your loved one. And there are some wonderful care homes - we get such a distorted picture painted by the media.
It’s not all bad, terrible, terrible! In fact it’s more good, good and really good! The media chooses to put a magnifying glass on the bad and terrible and that can give us a distorted perspective on the whole sector.
After doing some research into the role of volunteers in care homes and interviewing care home residents, this is what one said: “Well actually I think it’s good if volunteers come in and see what happens in care homes, because I think it’s a good thing if they carry out the message that, “Don’t worry if you have to go into one, it’s a good place to be….I’m glad I came.”
But the challenge remains to find the right care home for your loved ones if and when that becomes the best option for them. There are lots of resources online from Age UK and the Alzheimers Society giving advice and information about what to look for.
Here's 5 things that I think are important for you to consider, using the acronym SEEEE to make it easy for you to remember.
In my mind this is the most important indicator about how good the care home is. It tells you a lots. Is there a high turn over of staff? If there is then you need to ask yourself why? In a good care home the staff tend to stay.
Happy staff = happy care.
If the staff are stressed out, and really busy that may have knock on implications for the quality of care your loved one receives. If staff are unhappy they will leave, the manager will struggle to keep recruiting and there will be lots of agency staff. Temporary agency staff won’t know residents personally, and it makes it much more difficult to offer person centred care if you don’t know the person.
which brings me on to my second point - ETHOS. What is the ethos of the home? Do they follow the principles of person centred care - which focuses on the individual, who they are, their life story - rather than on the illness, or their physical care needs. Not just “You are someone I need to get up, dressed and fed this morning”.
Do they treat individuals with respect and dignity? Do they provide meaningful activities for residents to be involved in? Is there a sense of community?
Is the environment comfortable and homely? Smart, hotel like care homes can look impressive, but this is a place where your loved one is going to live; this is HOME. This was highlighted to me when I chatted to a resident, who lives in a small, family run care home.
This particular care home looks a bit dated, not like a newly refurbished plush and roomy care home I also visited with this resident on another occasion. I was slightly concerned she might get care home envy, so was very surprised when afterwards she said to me, “Oh, I didn’t like that care home at all!” And she went on to describe how she felt it was all too hotel like and not homely at all!
I am sure there will be others who would love the hotel like atmosphere and not like the very homely care home - it’s all about finding out what is right for each individual.
The important questions to ask are - are there things around to stimulate residents interests - pictures, objects on the tables, opportunities to get involved in household tasks like gardening, dusting, folding - if these are things that residents find meaningful. Also, is there access to the outdoors, even if residents rooms are not on the ground floor.
4. EASY TRANSPORT LINKS OR PARKING
If you are going to be visiting regularly you want to be able to get there easily - either in a car or on public transport and be able to park if you are driving.
5. END OF LIFE CARE
It might seem a bit strange to be thinking about this before your loved one even moves into a care home, but it’s so important, especially for people with dementia.
The care home is likely to be the last residence of your loved one and you want to feel confident that it is a place where they will have quality of life to the end of life. Now I have to disclose a vested interest here - end of life care for people with dementia is a particular passion of mine and it’s probably a whole other blog. But you want to ask questions about this.
What provision is made for residents when they can no longer participate in the programme of activities offered by the care home? Do they have a programme of sensory activities for people in the last stages of dementia? This is quite new and innovative - but if a care home do provide this you know they are forward thinking and really focused on good end of life care.
There is unlikely to be such thing as a perfect care home - and what is perfect for one person won’t be perfect for someone else, as every individual is different. But hopefully that gives you a taster of the sort of things to look out for and ask when you visit and chat with the managers.
Author - Tina English (Director - Embracing Age)