Choosing a Care Home

Choosing a care home

Once the decision has been made that your elderly relative needs to move into a care home there are lots of things you will need to think about.  Choosing a care home needs careful planning. One of the first questions is whether you need to look for a nursing home or a residential care home, this depends on your relative’s needs. The GP and social services will make an assessment about this.

Which type of home?

The key difference between the two is that anyone who has a complex medical condition and needs care from a nurse regularly, will need to be in a nursing home. They have a registered nurse on duty at all times. Residential care homes can also bring in medical help when required, but they mainly provide ‘social care’ – help with washing, dressing, feeding as well as providing social activities for residents. Make sure you know what you are looking for when choosing a care home.


Think about location (near where they currently live, so that friends can visit easily, or near you, if you live further away). Check the Care Quality Commission (CQC) website to see which care homes are nearby, and at the quality of care delivered. For other countries in the UK check the relevant wesbite – links given below.

However, this is only ever a small part of the picture: you need to speak to as many people as you can about local care homes. Your relative’s GP, their friends and neighbours, social services – anyone you can find who has some experience of any care homes in the area you are looking at. Which? Elderly Care publishes a really useful checklist when you are choosing a care home.

Top 10 tips for looking at and choosing a care home

  1. Never make an appointment to view a home, just turn up. You may get shown round by the manager or a junior care assistant. It doesn’t matter. You will get a real insight into how the care home operates, what it feels like and you can ask loads of questions. You can make an appointment for an assessment once you have a shortlist of possible homes.
  2. Small is not always beautiful. Larger homes often have a lot more going on in the way of activities, and provide more opportunity for socialising between residents.
  3. How happy do the staff look? Ask whoever shows you round whether they like working there, whether they would like to be cared for there. Ask what staff turnover is like and whether agency staff are regularly used.
  4. What are your first impressions? Does the entrance look cared for, or is the paintwork chipped and are there cigarette butts on the ground from staff smoking breaks?
  5. Importantly, is there a bad smell when you walk through the door? There is no excuse for lingering urine odours – or worse.
  6. Talk to residents and ask if they are enjoying living there. What do they do during the day and in the evening? Are there activities which would be suitable for your relative and are outings organised? Is there an activities co-ordinator on the staff – ask them what activities are taking place this week. If you can, talk to some of their relatives too.
  7. Ask how much freedom residents have in deciding their own routine and activities. Ask too if they can furnish their own room, bring their own bedding, hang their own pictures. Look at some of the residents’ rooms to see how homely they are.
  8. Ask what care is provided for End of Life. What training is given to staff?
  9. If relevant you should also ask what training the staff have in caring for residents with any kind of dementia.
  10. Ask how the home communicates with and involves relatives.

Further reading on Choosing a Care Home

For information on care homes, you might like to look at the advice given by Age UK. For advice covering the rest of the UK, go to NHS England, NIHealth in Wales and Health Scotland.
Information on the regulation of care homes and care agencies is available at:  England – CQC, Wales – Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales, Northern Ireland – Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority and Scotland – Care Inspectorate.

You might also be interested in our section on making life better in a care home.

Do you have experience of choosing a care home? Maybe you would like to see how other people have made their decisions. Join the conversation in Age Space Forum.