Jenny found care homes for her mother, who was nearly blind, and her father, who suffered from Alzheimer’s. She also helped her husband choose a care home for his mother.
"The problem is that when you are looking for a home it’s usually because of a crisis. They’re either in hospital and you’ve got to get them out to unblock the bed - while social services are saying ‘this is the only place we are prepared to pay for’ - or there’s some sort of crisis at home. You might have great big tick lists of things to look for, but you haven’t actually got that much choice.
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Care homes - gaining a general impression
We always visited. We got a general impression and some idea of staffing levels – whether there seemed to be enough staff around. One home proudly said the residents could get up when they liked and that some stayed in their bedclothes until lunchtime.
"It’s a good sign if the manager takes you into their office, and talks about the ethos of the place."
But when I asked, there was only one care assistant for about 15 patients, so it was no surprise some of the residents didn’t get dressed! It wasn’t their choice, it was that no one could help them.
At another, residents were given the option of being helped downstairs, but if they stayed in their room, they were stuck there for hours.
With Mum, Dad was still at home so the care home had to be near where they lived so that he could visit. She went in first for respite care, and ended up staying for a week at a time. Then we found another home and although it was large, each floor was run separately, so it wasn’t too impersonal. The ‘smell’ was as absent as it could be in a home! We thought the staff were very caring.
The relationship between staff and residents
We also looked at the interaction of the staff with the residents - whether they made eye contact and especially whether they were there talking to them. A sitting room full of residents and no staff means nobody is caring for those people. Another thing we asked was about trips out. A good home has a bus or van to take people out, even just for a drive around.
And if a resident came up to the member of staff I was talking to, I feel they should interact with them, rather brush them off because I was there.
It’s a good sign if the manager takes you into their office and talks about the ethos of the place, what they try to do, how they look after residents.
We did look at inspection reports, but you’re so desperate to find somewhere, that unless the report throws up real concerns, like the standard of nursing care or the home is unsafe, you don’t really use them.
My top tip is that if there is the remotest possibility that your relative needs to go into a home, start to look at the homes in your area straight away so that you can rule out the ones you don’t like and you’ve got a shortlist."
Help us improve care
Have you had experience of a care home behaving in an unfair, unclear or misleading way? Have you had reason to complain about a care home and been discouraged, unable to complain or experienced problems as a result of complaining? Which? wants to hear about it.
We are helping the Competition and Markets Authority with its investigation into adult residential care to uncover any underlying consumer problems with the care home market. If you want to help, visit our campaign page.
- Financing a care home: our guide containing details of your funding options.
- Dealing with changing care needs: practical advice if your relative's needs change.
- Dealing with a medical emergency: advice on what to do in the event of a medical emergency.
Page last reviewed: September 2017