Care Guides > What is a Care Home?

What is a Care Home?


This is one of the most common queries care seekers ask. With so many different types of care homes on offer, searching online can quickly become confusing and people find themselves lost in a deluge of costs, care packages, perks and facilities each care home has to offer. 

Luckily, Lottie is here to clear up some of this confusion, providing a clear definition for what a care home is, as well as answering some other common questions like ‘what is the difference between a residential and nursing care home’.

If you’re tired of reading reams of info online and not getting the answers you want, you’ve come to the right place. Read on to learn more…

The Definition of a Care Home

First things first: a care home, or residential care home, provides accommodation, personal care services and support to elderly people, or those who may no longer be able to live independently in their own home.

The term ‘care home’ is quite broad, which is why people often get confused when they start their search. The care offered, personal or nursing care, and size vary from home to home to home. Smaller homes cater for smaller groups, say between 15-20 people, while larger establishments can comfortably house more than 60 residents.  Residential-Home-1.jpg

Why care homes?

If you can no longer live independently, your care needs have changed, or your family and friends are finding it difficult to give you the personal care and support you require, you may need to go into a care home. 

Lots of elderly people are able to live on their own without any problems, but if you’re at risk of falling over or injuring yourself, you need to take certain types of medication, or you have a specific health condition like dementia or mental health issues, it could be safer for you to go into care.

Once in a care home, you won’t have to worry about day-to-day household tasks like cooking and cleaning and your family will have peace of mind that you are being cared for round the clock, with every possible need or requirement met. 

Going into a care home doesn’t mean the end of your independence either – you’ll still be able to keep up old hobbies, help with tasks around the home such as laundry and gardening, pop out to the shops and enjoy a meal with your family and friends; either at a nearby restaurant or in your home’s dining area. 

What does residential care mean?

Simply put, residential care means that the person or people in care live at the care home, rather than having a caregiver come to their own home. 

Depending on what the individual person might need in terms of care, residential care usually involves personal care such as help with washing, getting dressed, toileting, taking medication and getting around if their mobility isn’t as good as it used to be. 

Of course, the type of residential care someone needs differs from person to person; some people might only need – and want! – a bit of help, while others benefit from round-the-clock care.

What’s a nursing home and how are they different?

Good question! Nursing homes are slightly different. The main difference between a residential home and a nursing home is that nursing homes offer care beyond help with washing, dressing and taking medication. 

Nursing homes employ registered nurses and experienced care assistants to look after people with specific conditions such as dementia, severe physical disabilities or learning disabilities who might struggle with ordinary life and need a bit of extra help.  Nurse-Serving-Food.jpg

In a nursing home, residents usually have access to round-the-clock medical and nursing care. Nursing homes also offer care for patients with cancer or terminal illnesses, helping them to manage any pain or stepping in to help at short notice. 

What care is provided at care homes?

Among the many types of care offered by a residential care home, you’ll also find services such as emergency, convalescent, respite, short term, long-term care, palliative care and sensitive end of life care. 

Whether you’ve been discharged by the hospital on the condition that you spend some time in care, your regular carer is going away on holiday, or you just need a little break from the hustle and bustle of life, there’s a care home and a care package to suit you.  

In addition to all these care types, there are even more benefits to living in a care home. If someone has been living on their own for a while, care homes can help alleviate loneliness and isolation, boosting that person’s mental health and wellbeing by giving them companionship and people to talk to.

Care homes also take care of a person’s physical health by encouraging them to live as active a lifestyle as they are able to, which can, in turn, increase mental health and even life expectancy.

Finally, they provide a roof over your head, a warm and cosy bedroom and three good meals a day, which works wonders for wellbeing. 

What care is included at a dementia care home?

When someone is living with dementia, they may have problems with their memory and become confused and disoriented. Lots of people with dementia find that they lose some of their motor and visuospatial skills, making it difficult to move around like they used to. 


To help care seekers with dementia, specialist dementia care homes looks to really hone in on these areas of difficulty to help combat the symptoms of dementia.

Among the different types of dementia treatment, reminiscence activities are very popular, which could include looking at old photo albums with residents, singing a song or playing a tune they love, helping them with hobbies like jigsaws, or baking a tasty treat from their childhood. 

These activities tap into the senses, prompt conversations and evoke the emotions associated with these happy memories. 

Care homes might also include special equipment, such as sensory tables, or put in a sensory garden to aid those living with dementia. 

Residents with dementia may also be allowed to bring furniture from home to make their bedroom more familiar or create a memory box filled with sentimental items and old photographs to jog their memory. 

Some care homes have an EMI (Elderly Mentally Infirm) section dedicated to looking after those in the advanced stages of Dementia.

How does going into a care home work?

The process is fairly simple. Once it has been decided that a person can no longer live at their own home – this is usually decided by a care needs assessment completed by the person themselves, a child or relative or the local council – then the hunt for a care home begins. 

There are so many different types, locations and styles that choosing a care home can be tricky. If you’re in need of a helping hand, send one of our care experts a message here. Meal-Time.jpg

Are care homes expensive?

‘One size fits all’ definitely does not apply to care – and the same goes for pricing. Most care homes tailor fees to the level and amount of care the individual needs. Some care homes provide higher levels of care and might be dealing with more complex conditions, so the fees tend to be higher. 

There may also be additional fees and charges for certain facilities or experiences at the home, so be wary of those, too. If you want more guidance on care home fees and how you can get help from your local council,check out our beginner’s guide here. 

You can be given assistance from your local authority or local councils with care home fees and you can be granted FNC (Funded nursing care) which is a financial contribution from the NHS to help with nursing home costs.

What’s life like in a care home?

Stereotypes of care homes can be hard to shift, but the modern care homes of today are rarely boring. Residents are given their own room, which may be furnished or unfurnished and perhaps come with an en-suite bathroom or its own seating area. 

Meals, housekeeping and laundry services are provided and residents can access on-site facilities that could include a hair and beauty salon, café, dining area, shop, bistro or bar and gardens. 

Care home teams encourage residents to keep busy with a variety of social activities, including arts and crafts, music, dancing and exercise classes, visits from speakers and entertainers and gardening, to name just a few! 

Some care homes offer a minibus service – or even a privately chauffeured limo! – to take residents on day trips and excursions to nearby landmarks or neighbouring towns to enjoy shopping, museums and art galleries, pubs and restaurants. Elderly-Exercise.jpg

Are care homes primary or secondary care?

What is the difference between primary and secondary care, we hear you ask. Well, primary care covers the day-to-day healthcare your GP usually provides. If your health concern is a bit more serious, or might require specialist treatment, you are referred to secondary care services, which includes hospital treatment. 

Technically care homes are social care rather than health care, but as they provide for a variety of health conditions and needs of residents, they can cover primary, secondary and even tertiary care. 

What does retirement living mean?

You may also have heard the phrases ‘retirement living’ or ‘retirement village’ on your care search journey. Also known as retirement communities or care villages, the primary difference between a retirement home and a traditional care home is that in retirement living, you own your own home. This means more control over furnishings and decorations, as well as having pets. 

Retirement villages are actually pretty cool. They come in the form of a community of flats or houses exclusively for those who have retired. Think of combining the independence of living in your own home and the care and security of a care home and you’ve got retirement living. 

Retirement villages are often designed to be large developments with hundreds of different properties. Facilities include independent flats or bungalows, sport and leisure facilities, eateries and shops, giving residents both independence and a great social life. Different retirement schemes may offer the opportunity to buy, rent or part-own a home on the development. 

Can you tell me more about a care home’s management and staff?

Care homes usually have one head manager and a deputy manager in a supporting role. Care home managers are responsible for the leadership and day-to-day running of the care home. It is their job to provide information and advice to residents, their families and staff, monitor the performance of the care home and its care quality, agree contracts and budgeting with residents, look after fundraising for the home, develop policies and practices to keep residents and their confidentiality safe and recruit, train and supervise all staff at the home.

Care home staff are the first impression someone gets of a care home, so people skills are a must. Good care staff are compassionate, friendly, kind, warm and welcoming, as well as in possession of strong personal care skills – and medical knowledge if needed. Care staff are responsible for caring and attending to residents, listening to them, making them laugh and resolving any issues they might have. 

Care home staff receive qualifications before they can work in a care home and are regularly upskilled and trained further to deal with specific health conditions or equipment and to administer medication safely. Care home qualifications include:

  • Disclosure and Barring Service clearance – this certification allows someone to work with vulnerable adults.
  • Care certificate – this is a 12-week introductory course that all new employees must complete before they can start work.
  • NMC Pin number – in nursing homes, nursing staff must be registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) and have been given their unique pin.

We hope we’ve cleared up a few things on our whistlestop tour of care homes and what life at a care home is like. We know that the terminology you find online can be confusing and sometimes all you want is to snap your fingers and have the best solution for you appear. 

With Lottie, you can do all this and more – we’re here to help with every step on your care journey. Why not take a look at our guide to finding your perfect care home to learn more?

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