Your relative’s health might stay the same for years, or their situation may change in just a few months. In some cases, change can be sudden and unexpected.

On this page you can find information on:

1. Preparing for the future
2. Gradual decline
3. Sudden decline
4. How to identify that care needs have changed

Preparing for the future

Where possible, it is a good idea to think about the future when making care plans. When your relative first needs care, try to think ahead and keep your options open. Choose care options that can be changed without too much difficulty. For example, you and your relative might choose a sheltered housing scheme that offers extra care so that they can access personal care should they need it in the future.

Alternatively, you might choose a care home that offers places for both personal care and nursing care, even if your relative only needs personal care right now, so that the option for nursing care is available later on without them having to move. Of course, this level of choice won’t always be available, but it is worth bearing in mind.

Don’t forget that the local authority will only fund current needs, however, so if there are any additional costs associated with these choices your relative would have to fund them privately.

The NHS has a set of shared decision making tools online. These are specially designed to help people make decisions about difficult healthcare options. Among these is a decision aid to help gain a greater understanding about different places of care towards the end of life.

Your relative might find it helpful to put his or her wishes for their future care in writing, in what is called a living will. This legally binding document can come into effect if your relative loses the mental capacity to make decisions about their care in the future. Which? Money has more advice about living wills and how to set one up.

Gradual decline

More often than not, changes in physical or mental health will happen very slowly. Your relative’s health might deteriorate gradually due to old age, or the slow onset of a condition such as Alzheimer’s. In these cases, it can be harder to spot that care needs have changed.

You might realise that your relative is less mobile than they used to be, or that they are finding it more difficult to do everyday things. Because changes have happened gradually, it might take you and your relative longer to identify that there is a problem that needs addressing. It does mean, however, that you will likely have more time to plan appropriate care.

Sudden decline

If your relative suffers from an unexpected illness or injury – such as a stroke or a fall – the change in their mental or physical health might be sudden. They might struggle to carry out certain tasks that they managed without a problem the week before, or they might not be able to get around at all. For information on dealing with emergencies that result in your relative going to hospital, see Dealing with a medical emergency.

In these circumstances, it will be obvious that your relative’s needs have changed and that they need a different level of help or support. You might need to take action quickly to get the right care in place.

How to identify that care needs have changed

It sounds obvious, but the key is to talk to your relative. Make time to sit down with them and chat about how they are getting on. They might not want to bring up the subject of care themselves, but may respond to gentle but direct questions.

If they are already receiving care, ask what they think of their carer and whether there is anything else that they would like done. Seek feedback from the people close to them and those delivering their care.

As well as talking to your relative, there are other ways to find out if their care needs are being met; see Is additional care needed? for further suggestions. 

More information

Page last reviewed: 31 December 2015
Next review due: 30 April 2017