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Home & garden.

Updated: 17 Nov 2021

Moving into a care home

Moving into a care home will be a big change. Read our tips on how to make the transition as smooth as possible.
Which?Editorial team

Settling into residential care

Settling into a new home always takes a bit of time. It can feel especially strange if you’ve been used to living independently in your own home, but have made the decision to move into residential care. And it can be an even bigger shock if you’ve had to move into residential care following a crisis such as a hospital admission.

With new activities and new faces, your daily routine might look quite different from what it was before, but there will be plenty of positives to focus on. In a care home, you’ll likely feel safe and well looked after. And it can be a relief to no longer have to worry about household chores or what could happen if you fall ill.

If you’re still in the process of choosing a care home, download our checklist of questions to ask when you’re looking around. This might help you to get a better idea of what it’s like to live there. 

What to bring 

Although you will likely have less private space in a care home than in your current home, there’s much you can do to make your surroundings feel familiar. 

Most care homes will be more than happy for you to bring belongings that will make you feel at home. Even small items can make a big difference to how comfortable you feel in your surroundings. Some people like to bring soft furnishings, photographs and books with them, for instance. You can also bring your own toiletries.

Some care homes will even let you bring furniture or large electronic items such as a television. It’s best to check what the policy is on furniture before your move-in date. Bear in mind that some items might need to be safety-tested.

If you’re considering moving with large items of furniture, think carefully about whether you will have space for it. Living in a cluttered environment can be unpleasant and even dangerous, so it’s best to avoid bringing too much. You could always ask the home to give you a floor plan of your room with measurements so you can plan in advance

If you’re moving to a nursing home, bringing your own furniture might be more difficult.

Talk to care home staff

When you move into a care home, the staff will draw up a care plan that’s personalised to your needs. Don’t be afraid of telling the staff what you like to do and when. If you have a routine you’d like to stick to, they’ll try to accommodate your wishes. This could include things such as what time you like to eat, or when you usually wake up in the morning. 

If you have specific religious or cultural needs, staff will try to accommodate these. All care homes will have equality and diversity policies, so your wishes should be respected. 

Finding your way

One of the most difficult things to get used to when living somewhere new is finding your way around. Spend some time getting to learn the layout of the care home. Don’t worry if it takes you a little while to find your bearings; that won’t last long. You can ask staff for help to find where things are until you become more familiar with your new home. 

Getting involved

Moving into a care home is an opportunity to make a lot of new friends and social connections. If you’ve struggled with loneliness or isolation, this could be a huge advantage. 

As well as looking after day-to-day needs, many care homes have activity coordinators who arrange regular activities for residents. These can include:

  • arts and crafts
  • games, such as dominoes or bridge
  • exercise, such as chair aerobics
  • gardening
  • music or art-therapy sessions
  • reminiscence projects
  • pet therapy
  • visiting musicians
  • singers or storytellers
  • social events in the home, such as tea parties or family days
  • outings to places of interest.

These might chime with interests you already have, or it could be an opportunity to try something completely new. Talk to the staff about how you’d most like to spend your time and see if they can accommodate this. 

Although you will have more support than before in a care home, it’s still important to stay as independent as you can (if you feel able to). This could mean sticking to routines or activities that you've always enjoyed, helping around the home or in the garden, or having goals to stay fit and healthy.

Stay in touch with loved ones

Just because you’re moving into a new home, it doesn’t mean you won’t want to keep in regular contact with friends and family. If you're not able to see them as regularly as you used to, consider other ways of keeping in touch, such as with a phone or tablet. If you want a fuss-free device, you could buy a simple-to-use mobile phone without any complicated extra features. If you don’t use a mobile phone, you might be able to install a personal landline phone in your room. Check with the care home in advance if possible. 

Communicating via video call has become popular recently – particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic. If you like to chat to friends and family this way, see if the care home has the facilities to set up regular video calls with loved ones. 

Tips for families 

If your friend or relative is moving into a care home, you might well be feeling some difficult emotions. You might be worried about how they’ll cope, and how easy it will be to visit them regularly. 

Focus on the positives 

People often feel guilty when their loved one moves into residential care, but there are also many positives to focus on, such as knowing they will be well looked after and that any problems can be resolved quickly. 

Speak to care staff

Some people find it difficult to see strangers caring for a family member – particularly if you played a large part in their care before. Speak to the staff and care home manager about how you’re feeling and don’t be afraid to ask questions, particularly if your loved one has complex care needs such as dementia. 

In fact, care home staff will usually be keen to hear feedback from families, whether it's good or bad, so don’t be shy about sharing your views.

If something has really worried you and you want to register a complaint, know that the care home has a duty to investigate it. Read our article on complaining about a care provider to learn more about how the process works.

Get involved

Care homes often hold meetings with staff, residents and their relatives. Getting involved in this way can help you stay connected to what life in the care home is like for your loved one. It’s also an easy forum to express any concerns or suggestions for improvements. 

Keep in touch

Even if you can’t visit your loved one as frequently as you were doing before, there are lots of other ways to keep in touch. See what your loved one would prefer. Some people really enjoy video calls, for instance, but a normal phone call can be just as good. Don’t underestimate the power of an old-fashioned letter or card to let them know you’re thinking of them. 

Check visiting rules 

The pandemic has made visiting loved ones in care homes far more challenging than it used to be. Rules and restrictions have changed frequently since early 2020. Bear in mind that there might still be restrictions in place when you want to pay your loved one a visit.

See our page on care home visits during the pandemic for up-to-date advice. 

For more information on helping to support your loved one in a care home, the Royal College of Occupational Therapists has a useful toolkit for friends and family.