Care Guides > How to Choose a Care Home

How to Choose a Care Home

How to choose a care home
Will Donnelly profile image
6/27/2022

Choosing a care home is one of the most important decisions you’ll make, whether this is for yourself or a family member.

With so many care options available though, how do you go about picking one? There are plenty of things to consider, including the type of care required, location, budget, facilities, food and more.

With this in mind, we’ve put together a handy guide packed full of information and advice to help you choose a care home. We’ve also covered questions to ask when viewing a care home and the steps you should take when working through the process.


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In this article on choosing a care home:

  1. What to consider when choosing a care home
  2. What else should I look for when visiting a care home?
  3. Visiting a care home
  4. What questions should I ask when viewing a care home?
  5. What care is required? Different types of care homes
  6. Next steps
  7. Making the care home selection



What to Consider When Choosing a Care Home

Once you’ve decided that a care home is the right choice, you’ll then want to start looking at care homes to work out which ones will provide the happiest and most fulfilling care for you or your loved one.

While this decision-making process can seem daunting, considering the following factors will go a long way to narrowing down your search.


Type of care required

To help you understand the type of support you need, here are a few questions to ask yourself or your loved one:

  • What type of care service are you looking for?

  • Do you need help with day-to-day tasks like washing and dressing? If you only need personal care then a residential home will probably be the right choice

  • Do you have a specific medical condition or health concern that may require nursing care?

  • Are you living with dementia and therefore need a home with specialist dementia facilities?

The home you choose must be able to provide the level of care and support that you need to be happy and healthy, so determining this will help you considerably narrow down your search.

You can take a care needs assessment to find out which type of care home will be best for you. This is a free, professional test that’s provided by your local council and helps you work out what type of care you or your loved one needs, as well as whether you’re eligible for financial support to cover your care costs.


What type of care do you require?


Location

The next thing to consider is your preferred location.

When selecting a care home for yourself, you may have family, friends or a significant other living nearby. In this case, selecting a home close to where you or your loved one currently live makes plenty of sense. Not only does it increase the chance of visitors, but new surroundings will still feel relatively familiar.

For many who don’t currently live near their family or friends, moving into a care home provides an opportunity to move much closer so your family members and friends can more easily visit and offer additional support.

Once you’ve decided on a location, you can then begin looking for care homes that provide the type of support you’re after in that area. Many careseekers use Google to narrow down their search. Alternatively, there are online care home directories that have already narrowed down the best care homes in your local area.


Fees and budget

Care homes can be expensive - and understanding the costs can be overwhelming. A great way to tackle this is to set a budget before beginning your search - as this can help narrow down to any nearby homes that provide the right level of care.

Care costs include rent, food, laundry and utility bills. Some of the additional costs and fees that you might also be charged are medical aids and visits from medical professionals, hairdressers or chiropodists.

Care costs can vary greatly, depending on the level of support you or your loved one needs. There will often be a pre-admission assessment with the care home’s manager. This will determine you or your loved one’s needs and allow costs to be finalised.

Most homes provide a complete fee breakdown before you agree to move in. This will prevent any unwelcome surprises at a later date. If you’re entitled to financial support from your local council then they’ll arrange a suitable residential or nursing home that meets your care needs and matches your budget.

You may be able to get financial assistance from your local council or local authority.


Care home rating and customer reviews

Any top-quality care home should have a positive rating from the relevant health and social care regulator – in England’s case, this is the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

Looking at ratings can give you some really useful insights into the quality of a home and its care services, as well as its facilities and staffing. A rating of ‘Outstanding’ or ‘Good’ from the CQC is preferable. You can find the most recent inspection report for a home on their website, or look for it on the CQC website.

If you live in Scotland, check out ratings given by the Care Inspectorate. In Wales, it’s the Care and Social Services Inspectorate and in Northern Ireland, it’s the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RIQA).

Another great way to learn about life at a particular care home is by reading online reviews. Usually, reviews are written by relatives or friends of the care home resident, providing feedback on anything and everything; ranging from accommodation and food quality to activities and staff.

Care home websites and brochures are keen to display their very best reviews to potential residents, while reviews from Google or Trustpilot can give you more in-depth and honest insights.


Management and staff

Management and staff are another extremely important ingredient in a good care home. A care home’s staff should all be qualified and properly trained for the type of care offered at the home, as well as being friendly, caring and helpful.

Don’t be afraid to ask the care home manager and staff questions when you visit a care home. They should be well equipped to answer any queries you might have about the home and how it’s run on a day-to-day basis.

Staff should show interest in the residents and take time getting to know them - finding out about their lives and any personal preferences they have when it comes to care. All of this will contribute to keeping residents happy in their daily lives and ensuring a high level of residential or nursing care is received.


Management and staff are one of the most important aspects of a care home


Accommodation, facilities and communal areas

Accommodation will vary, so it’s useful to work out what type of home accommodation you want. Some homes offer private rooms with en-suite facilities and private dining and lounge areas for those who like their own space, while other homes take a more communal approach, with several bedrooms sharing a communal space and bathroom.

Some residents may even be lucky enough to get their own room with a balcony - or a door leading onto a patio or garden if the room is on the ground floor.

If being able to personalise your own room with your own furniture and cherished possessions is important to you then good news - you’ll be abe to personalise your own room. Some homes let residents bring their own beds, TVs and other decorations to make their room feel more homely.

Our care experts handpick and vet all care homes listed on our site to ensure that residents always receive the perfect level of comfort and support.

Communal areas are often the life and soul of a care home - bustling spaces where residents can meet to socialise over a cup of tea, catch up on their favourite TV programme, play games and join in with activities.

When visiting a care home, be sure to take a close look at communal spaces like the lounge and dining room. You or your loved one will be spending a lot of time in these areas, so make sure the atmosphere is comfortable and inviting.

A communal garden is an added bonus. This can be vital for getting some fresh air and enjoying the sun on a warm summer’s day!


Accessibility

Accessibility is another key factor when it comes to selecting a care home. Most homes accommodate for those who have disabilities, such as through ramps and wide doorways for wheelchair users.

You should also check if there’s enough parking available at the home and whether facilities like shops are within a short distance. If they aren’t, then will care home staff be willing to drive you to them?


Care home activities and experiences

There are lots of misconceptions about life in a care home - take it from us, all homes offer a vibrant and exciting atmosphere, with numerous activities and events for residents to get stuck in with. There’s no shortage of opportunities to have fun, socialise and create meaningful relationships with other like-minded residents.

Most care homes offer activities like gardening, watching films, coffee mornings and gentle exercise classes, but you may also find that dance and music classes, arts and crafts and day trips are all offered.

If you have a hobby that you don’t want to give up, ask staff whether there’s a class or opportunity available. Better yet, if there’s an activity you’ve always wanted to try, care homes can be extremely accommodating. Some have even helped residents achieve lifelong dreams like skydiving!


Quality of food

Delicious food is one of life’s greatest pleasures and a shortcut to happiness, particularly after a long day. Care home food should be no exception to this!


Good care homes now serve delicious food


Care homes are hugely accommodating for any specific dietary requirements - there are always options to suit every taste preference and any allergies. When visiting a care home, you or your loved one might be given the option to sit down for dinner and sample some of the food that’s been prepared for that day.





What Else Should I Look For When Choosing a Care Home?

Here are a few other things to look out for when choosing a care home. You can take these steps before visiting the home:

  • Make sure the home can provide the level of care you currently require, along with the level of care that may be needed in the future

  • Check if the home has any vacancies. If it doesn’t, then find out how long the waiting list is

  • Read the nursing or residential home’s brochure or website before visiting. You could also call in advance and speak to the staff or manager

  • Read the care home’s most recent inspection report. You can either ask the home for this or find it on the CQC website




Visiting a Care Home

Once you’ve got all the initial research out of the way, the best method to get a feel for a care home is to visit it.

You can book a viewing by calling or emailing the home in advance. If you’re unable to visit in person, a member of staff may be able to come to you (virtual viewings are often an option as well).

Your visit will likely involve a tour of the home and its facilities, but you can also have a meal in the dining area or join in with a group activity. We’d recommend that you take a family member or friend with you on the day as support (and to provide a second opinion).


While at the home, look around for clues as to the quality of life there:

  • Do the residents seem happy and well looked after?

  • Are they socialising and laughing with one another and the staff?

  • Are the facilities clean and well-kept?

  • Would the environment suit you or your loved one’s lifestyle?

Never underestimate the power of your gut feeling – if you feel immediately happy and at home, then that’s definitely a good sign.


What Questions Should I Ask When Viewing a Care Home?

There are several things you might want to find out on your visit. Don’t feel as though you have to ask everything here. Instead, think about what’s most important to you. If you miss anything, then you can always fire off the remaining questions in a follow-up email or call.


1. Care needs

  • Does the home assess new residents’ needs before accepting them?
  • Are residents and their families involved in care decisions?
  • If your needs change or increase, can they still be met within this home?
  • Are there accessible toilet facilities throughout the home and do these toilets have handrails, raised toilet seats and mobility aids?
  • Is the home linked with a specific GP practice for residents?
  • Do other health staff like opticians and chiropodists regularly visit?
  • Who decides when a health check-up is needed?
  • Are there travel arrangements for hospital and clinic visits? Do staff accompany residents and is there a charge for this service?

2. Day-to-day life

  • What security arrangements are in place to keep residents safe?
  • Can residents choose their daily routine?
  • Can residents bring their own furniture and belongings?
  • Do the bedrooms have secure storage?
  • Is there a call-bell system?

3. Staff

  • Do the staff get to know residents and their lives/experiences?
  • What’s the ratio of staff to residents?
  • Can residents choose their specific carer, or whether they have a male/female carer?
  • What training and qualifications do staff have?

4. Food

  • Is there a choice of food and can you see a sample menu?
  • How often does the menu change?
  • Is the home able to meet any dietary needs?
  • Do residents tend to eat together?

5. Social life and activities

  • Is there an activities coordinator?
  • What activity facilities are there (such as a radio, reading room, TV room, books, shared computers and so on)?
  • Are there regular social activities for residents?
  • Are day trips ever offered?

6. Visitors

  • Are there any restrictions on when or how many people can visit the home?
  • Are visitors able to stay overnight?
  • Are young children and pets able to visit?
  • Is there a dedicated space for residents to spend time with visitors?
  • Are there set visiting times?

7. Contracts

  • Are a copy of the home’s contract and terms and conditions available?
  • Can you stay for a trial period?
  • What happens if you’re unhappy with the home after moving in?
  • What are the notice conditions to terminate the contract? How much notice is required?

8. Fees

  • What are the home’s fees and are these reviewed each year?
  • Is a deposit or advanced payment required?
  • If you’re looking at a nursing home, how are NHS-funded nursing care payments accounted for in the fee structure?
  • Are any fees payable after a resident passes away?

9. Accessibility

  • Are there plenty of parking spaces at the home?
  • Are family and friends able to easily get there?
  • Is there good wheelchair access into and within the building?
  • Are amenities like shops and parks accessible to residents?

10. Feedback and complaints

  • Are residents encouraged to give feedback and is the complaints procedure readily available?
  • Is the manager accessible and approachable?
  • What’s the procedure if there’s a serious incident or complaint?

11. Other questions

  • Is the home well maintained and has it passed all necessary inspection reports?
  • What temperature are the rooms?
  • Are residents allowed pets?



What Care Is Required? Different Types of Care Homes

There are three main types of care homes:

  1. Residential homes

  2. Nursing homes

  3. Specialist homes (such as dementia care homes)

What all of these facilities have in common is that they will provide a safe and comfortable new home for those who require assistance with daily life.

Which of these you choose for yourself or your loved one will depend on the level of care required.

Some larger care homes offer both residential and nursing care facilities. Care homes can be run by private companies, local councils or voluntary/charitable organisations.


Below, we’ve gone into each of these home types in more detail.


Residential care homes

Residential care means that people live in a care home or similar residential facility, rather than having a caregiver come to them. ‘Residential care’ is a term used to describe the general care and support received within a care home. This can also be referred to as ‘personal care’ or ‘assisted living’.

Requirements will vary from individual to individual, but some of the personal care that’s usually provided in a residential home includes help with washing, getting dressed, using the toilet, taking medication and getting from point A to point B.

Some of these care facilities will offer extra activities like day trips and other social events to help residents get to know one another.


Residential care homes


Nursing homes

Nursing homes are slightly different from residential care homes as the care service they offer goes beyond washing, dressing and taking medications. Nursing homes employ qualified nurses and experienced care assistants to look after people who may struggle with daily tasks and need some extra help. This can include people with severe physical or learning disabilities, people who require intensive rehabilitative care or individuals with other long-term conditions.

Within a nursing home, residents usually have access to round-the-clock care - there will always be one or more qualified nurse on duty to provide this support.


Specialist dementia care homes

Specialist care facilities such as dementia homes are designed to make people living with dementia or Alzheimer’s feel comfortable and safe. The type of support offered in dementia care homes focuses on individual needs and stimulating the senses of residents.

One of the most common treatments used in a dementia care home is reminiscence therapy - looking at old photos and other memories with elderly residents to evoke emotions associated with these happy memories.

Care is usually 24/7 and a secure environment is created through features such as keypad entrances and carefully designed layouts to avoid confusion for residents.





Next Steps

Here are the steps to take in order to further your care home search and eventually pick out the perfect nursing or residential home for you or your loved one.


Get a care needs assessment

Before you begin looking at and visiting care homes across the UK, be sure that you or your loved one get a free care needs assessment from the local council’s adult social care department. This is especially important if you require financial help from the local authority, as councils will only fund care when someone has been assessed as needing it.

Even if you think you’ll end up paying for your own care, it still makes sense to get a needs assessment. They provide a professional evaluation of the type of care and support that’s needed which will make it much easier to pick a suitable care home. They may also highlight any other care options you hadn’t considered.


Make a shortlist of your preferred homes

This shortlist can be determined by assessing all the factors we spoke about earlier (these could include the location, cost, accommodation, facilities, communal areas and quality of food). When making this shortlist, you might want to include other close family members or friends in the discussion - multiple heads are always better than one!

Either way, jot down all the care homes which are currently standing out as the frontrunners.


Make a shortlist of your preferred care homes


Read the care home inspection reports

In the UK, there are four watchdog groups responsible for inspecting and reporting on care providers. These reports are made publicly available and offer valuable insight as to how well a home is managed and the level of care it offers. In England and Scotland, these care regulators also give care providers a quality rating.


You can use these reports to see if:

  • Any points raised by inspectors have been addressed, or whether they remain an issue
  • There’s a high staff turnover (this is mentioned in the reports). This could indicate unsettled and unhappy staff
  • Inspections have frequently occurred, which could be a sign of several problems existing within the home

Contact suitable care homes

Before making any in-person visits, you can call your shortlisted care homes and talk specifics over the phone. If possible, speak directly with the care home’s manager about how the home can meet your needs and any future needs.

Ask the home to be upfront about costs and fees as well - this will help avoid any wasted trips if the price is out of your budget. You’ll probably be asked if you're self-funded, local-authority funded or a mixture of the two. If you aren’t sure then explain your situation.

Another thing you can do is ask about the availability of places - there might be a lengthy waiting list, in which case you should probably look elsewhere.

Finally, ask the residential home to send you written details of the cost, along with a brochure if they have one. The more information at your disposal, the better!


Visit these care homes

You should then visit as many of these suitable care homes as possible, collecting as much information as you can in the process. When on visits, be sure to find out what social activities are on offer and ask any questions you may have. Questions could be about the care home contract, your potential room and what else takes place around the home.

If possible, make these visits with a family member or friend. If there’s a home you’re particularly interested in, try and visit it a few times to get a better understanding of what goes on throughout the week.

When arranging a visit, check who you’ll be meeting and confirm the appointment before setting off.


Policies and contracts

Next, you need to go over all the admin that comes with moving into a care home, including the care home’s policies and contracts. Make sure you read the small print to ensure that the care home is right for you and there aren’t any policies that might pose an issue. For example, some care homes won’t allow pets, so check this if you can’t imagine life without your beloved dog.

You’ll also want to carefully read the care home’s contract and make sure you fully understand everything that’s required, both from you and from the care home itself. You can request a copy of the care home’s contracts and terms and conditions before signing anything official.





Making the Care Home Selection

The care home you choose will ultimately depend on your personal preferences, which nearby care homes tick all the necessary boxes and your gut feeling.

Remember, you can always ask family members and friends for their advice and support. It never hurts to get a second opinion and other people might spot something that you missed.

If you require some extra advice, then don’t hesitate to get in touch with one of Lottie’s care experts who can guide you through the care home search process from start to finish, free of charge. Contact us here.






Searching for an elderly care home can be a stressful and time-consuming operation. Thankfully, Lottie removes much of the difficulty from this process by connecting elderly people to the UK’s very best care homes through years of human expertise and smart technology.

Check out our list of elderly care homes across the UK and everything care-related we have to offer!

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