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Questions to ask when choosing a care home- a personal view

As a relative and carer of someone with many disabilites, I found it difficult to accept that I could not manage the care of my mother within my own home. Choosing the best 'home' for her was extremely difficult. I took advice from many people. These are a selection of their personal thoughts

'Don't make an appointment. Turn up unannounced. It is important that you see the 'home' when the staff have not had a chance to prepare for your visit. That way, you will see the 'home' as it really is. Obviously , this may mean that key staff are not on duty, so be prepared to come again.'

'Ask how long the staff have been at the home. A rapid turn-over may not be a good thing.'

'Check out the length of the shifts worked by the staff. In some homes the staff work twelve hour shifts. My personal observation is that many people who work these long hours for several days at a time are often very tired, especially during the afternoon and evening. This can make them less motivated to think 'outside the box' when it comes to providing any form of stimulating activity for the people they care for.'

'Ask how often they use agency nurses. They are often excellent but they may not have the detailed knowledge that regular staff may have about a client. Often, older patients want things done in a particular way but cannot always explain exactly what they want. Regular staff may well be able to interpret a client's emotions with speed, thus avoiding any misunderstandings.'

'Ask what kind of training the staff have had.'

'If there are relatives around when you visit (weekends are generally the best time), see if you can ask them what they feel about the care offered to their loved ones.'

'Watch, critically, how the staff react to the people in their care.'

'Think about the location. I wanted to choose a home close to my mother's friends so that it would be easy for them to visit. I also needed it to be relatively close to my home as I didn't want to spend hours travelling.'

'If you like the person in charge, ask discreetly, how long she thinks she will be staying. The atmosphere of a home often depends on the leadership. If the dynamic manager is about to leave, or you discover that the 'home' is about to change hands, this should be considered before making your decision. Obviously, things can still change for a variety of reasons, but it helps to get as clear a picture as possible.''

'Check the kind of activities available to the clients and how often they take place. Some homes organise regular 'outings'. Others include their clients in many of the the everyday activities including shopping and, where appropriate, cooking. Obviously the ability of an individual to get involved will vary but many homes cater for people with extreme disabilities and still manage to make those people part of everything that goes on.'

'Check the cost (and what that includes). Ask if you are eligible for any help. You may be entitled to claim for specialized equipment (beds, wheelchairs, etc).'

'Go to the website and read the CQC (Care Quality Commission's) report. They make inspections on a regular basis and write a very detailed report about the 'home' each time. They also give it a grade. Read the report carefully (noting the date it was completed) and see where it failed. It may be that some of the issues that were of concern to the Commission may not be as important to you. I picked a home because the report confirmed my feelings when I visited. The report stated that the 'home' had a very caring atmosphere and listed lots of examples. Those examples appealed to me. This was far more important to me than the quality of the furnishings which, in the report, did not in every instance, fare quite as well (though it did in most cases). To me, the 'homely' nature of the building was more important than other things. Not everyone would feel that way.'

'Ask everyone you can think of for information about the home before making your final decision. I asked friends and relatives of people who had stayed there , some local nurses and my GP. It all helped me to build a picture of the 'home' I was seeking.'

'You may be able to get Continuing Healthcare (CHC). If you have failed to qualify, you will be able to apply again later on if circumstances change.'

These are just a few PERSONAL suggestions. If you have any advice to add, please e-mail

Also, check out other information from NHS Choices , Age UK


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