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3 key questions choosing a care home in Dorset

WHERE do you start?

The chances are that you had little or no warning that you were going to need to think about long-term residential or nursing care for your loved one.  So when it happens – bad fall, broken hip, stroke, long-term degenerative condition that takes a turn for the worse – you have to act quickly.

Choosing a care home or nursing home for a parent or for your spouse or partner is fraught with emotional difficulties, but here are a few guidelines, based on the experiences of the AgeSpace Dorset team.

There are three key factors – LOCATION, FACILITIES, PRICE.

3 questions to choosing a care home

Location, location, location

  • Do you live near your parent? Do you want to move her/him nearer to you or do you think he/she will want to stay close to where they have lived and perhaps still have close friends?  Look at the various websites and directories  that list nursing and care homes in the chosen area.
  • Select three or four that look potentially right for your parent.
  • Visit them and ask questions. Ask to see several different bedrooms. Are there windows and what are they overlooking? (If your parent is used to a busy urban streetscene, they might find fields or trees strange and even disturbing – and vice versa). Ask to see the various residents’ common rooms as well as the bedrooms.
  • Are residents able to bring their own furniture and bits and pieces (within reason)?
  • Talk to a few residents if you can.
  • Talk to members of staff – are they easily comprehensible (old people often have hearing problems), are they friendly and forthcoming? Is there a welcoming atmosphere?
  • Do you like the environment of the home – does it feel homely, does it smell fresh and clean, does it look cared for? (Bright and new is not necessarily what is wanted, but care, cleanliness and comfort definitely are).
  • Is there a garden and do the residents have access to it?
  • Is there a car park for visitors and family? (In urban areas this can be a significant factor – no car parking can preclude older friends who may not be very mobile from visiting your parent).

menu masssage last night of the proms

Menu, massage, Last Night of the Proms?

What facilities does the home provide? What your parent needs – or wants – will depend on the reasons you have started your search for the right nursing or care home.

If it’s post-stroke or long-term care after a serious fall, you need to ask about the level of nursing care (ask about qualifications and experience), whether there is a massage or physiotherapy room with visiting or resident trained staff, whether there is an arrangement with a local health centre and GP surgery for regular visits and check-ups.

  • Does the home have a visiting chiropodist or optician?
  • Does the home provide facilities and trained staff for services such as hair-dressing, manicure or pedicure?
  • Is there a restaurant for residents or are meals served in the bedrooms or communal sitting rooms? How much help is available if your parent needs assistance with feeding him or herself?
  • Ask about the food – is it made on site, what is the sourcing policy, do they offer menus and choices?
  • Do the bedrooms have televisions and radios or do you need to provide these?
  • If your parent is, say, a sports fan or a music lover, will the staff make sure that the television or radio is turned on to Wimbledon,  a Test Match or the Proms?
  • Is there a communal television room?
  • Are activities provided for residents – if so, ask for examples.
  • Are there outings for residents – what sort of trips do they make, and is this part of the service or an additional charge?

money money money

Money, money, money!

The price of care homes and nursing homes varies widely.

Only you know what your budget is. If you are looking for local authority or social care support you will need to find out what is available in your area.  We can help with financial information here. Planning for funding information is available here.

But it is only partly true that you get what you pay for – excellent care, comfortable clean rooms and genuinely caring staff are worth more than mere money. That may sound trite, but it is also based on experience.

You need to think what your parent is used to and try to find a home that will provide something similar. If your parent is a self-contained person who doesn’t make small talk, doesn’t like pop music and is not naturally sociable, you do not want to place them in a home where jolly music in communal rooms is what’s on offer.

In some urban areas, there may be waiting lists for the best care homes. Your choices may be very restricted.

Be prepared to visit as often as you can – or have reliable friends who will visit regularly – particularly in the early weeks, to make sure that your parent is being properly cared for and is as happy as he or she can be.

One last point – if your parent has a surviving spouse, you may want to consider the possibility of them moving in at some point in the future. Discuss the home’s policy on this.

If you’re looking for more care at home, read our guide to choosing a care agency or carer.

For more information on finances and care, read our Dorset finance section.