This is a very hard thing to advise on. Moving into a care home is about moving “home”, so what one person would like as their home another person wouldn’t. Therefore in many respects there are no right answers and no wrong answers, it is a matter of choice.
There are some basics though and the first thing is to understand the presentation of the person that is going into care and find out the category of home that the healthcare professionals think they should be in. Then ask for a list of suitable homes in the chosen area and ring them.
First impressions count, so what was that first phone call like? Did you like the response on the phone, were they helpful, courteous and respectful? If they were, then hopefully they will be like that when your loved one moves in.
When you explain the presentation of the loved one what is the response, it is the metaphorical sucking of air through the teeth or are they happy to accommodate the required care. Do they make you feel like you are you asking a lot or a little? It maybe that you are asking a lot, someone with extreme aggression is hard to care for, so bear in mind what you are asking.
The next step is to arrange a visit. This can be hard and if you go to the websites of Age UK or Alzheimer’s Society, they have a leaflet about moving into care with a list of things to think about and ask, print one off and take it with you, so that you won’t forget an important question.
It is a simple test, but step inside the front door and take a big sniff, what do you smell? If it is something delicious cooking that’s wonderful, if it is something unpleasant, that is an important sign. Most care homes have people with incontinence, so accidents happen, if some homes clean it up well enough that there is no smell, there is no excuse for the others. I’ve been to the odd home where I not only want to have a shower and wash my clothes, but wanted to wash my shoes, handbag and briefcase; I couldn’t get out of there quick enough and nearly lost my lunch when I stepped inside!!
So having stepped inside the door, what are the staff like? Are they warm friendly and welcoming? What do they show you? You’ll probably be shown a room and the dining room plus lounge, but can you see the kitchen? What about the laundry? If the areas that are “staff only” are nice, then this is a good reflection, but they may be grotty.
Are you offered a cup of tea? The cuppa can be a good indication – is it a mug or cup and saucer? Is there a tray? Is it just a cup/mug or pot of tea? Is there a doily on the tray? Is there cake or biscuits? Are the cake/biscuits homemade? Are the biscuits plain or chocolate? When I go to care home, mostly I’m offered a cuppa, it is very rare I’m not. It is also rare I get homemade cake and a doily on a tea tray with a pot of tea, but lovely when I do. I’ve even been offered this in the garden on a warm day, so the venue of the tea can make an impression.
If you ask lots of questions and then ring later with another question, how is that call handled? With patience or annoyance?
You’ll probably see an interaction between a resident and staff, how do the staff behave? Are they respectful, treating the resident with dignity. What are the residents doing? Are they alert or asleep – this might be dependent on the time of day, residents often get sleepy after lunch.
Importantly, ask about the food, it may be a small pleasure but the residents deserve all the pleasures they can have, so is the food homemade or do they heat up ready meals? What is the choice, when does the kitchen close (if at all)? Can a certain dietary choice be accommodated? Even if the choice isn’t exotic, can a resident have bacon & eggs for breakfast? What about 4pm or 4am – can they have it then?
Ask all the questions you think are important; take a list of questions if necessary. Then go home and try to sum up your impression when you are not there. How do you feel about putting your loved one there?