Amid all the practical considerations of when a loved one goes into care, the far less-discussed issue can be the emotional strain it can cause. Concern about whether your loved one will settle in easily or withdraw into themselves can cause many a sleepless night.
However, by preparing thoroughly and following some key steps, it’s possible to ensure the transition goes as smoothly as possible. This will allow you to rest easy that they’ll be happy in their care home, surrounded by new friends, kept busy, and well looked after.
It can be tricky to know when the time is right for a loved one to go into care – too soon, and they’re likely to feel as if they’re losing their independence, too late, and they may injure themselves while you’re searching for the right place. The guilt that goes with the choice is a big cause of initial emotional stress – but there are valuable positives that are often overlooked while considering the issue.
For example, an older person who lives alone may be missing out on the sort of social interaction that comes from having friends nearby. Alternatively, they may be only just coping with everyday tasks – something that 24-hour care and support can help with.
Look out for signs that indicate you may need to start thinking about care, from obvious ones, such as recent accidents or falls or a lack of home maintenance, to less apparent red flags, including changes in appearance and weight loss, and meeting up with friends or neighbours less frequently.
‘The condition of your loved one's kitchen can tell you a lot,’ says Sue Learner, editor of Carehome.co.uk, a care home review website. ‘You can see if your relative is eating properly, if food in their fridge is past its expiry date or if there are multiples of one thing, which can be a sign of forgetfulness or dementia.’
If you’re not sure about whether your relative should move into a care home, consider your own health as much as theirs. ‘Providing care for a loved one, unsupported, can lead to high levels of stress, anxiety and, in some cases, depression,’ emphasises Sue Learner. ‘This will lead to a worsening of the quality of care you are able to provide. In such instances, moving your loved one into care can be the best decision for you and your family.’
Another potential source of stress can be wondering if your chosen care home is the right place for your relative. If you’ve never selected one before, it can be hard to know what questions to ask, or what to look for. As well as review sites, such as Carehome.co.uk, remember to observe if you received a friendly welcome, the general atmosphere, cleanliness and the nutrition and quality of the food on offer.
Also see if the staff are engaged with the residents, if religious or cultural beliefs are observed, and if you can see the residents being treated with respect. Ask if the residents are involved in decision-making and if the home has digital care plans and care notes and if these can be shared with relatives.
Check also that the home you’ve chosen encourages residents to do things for themselves, including dressing and eating, only providing assistance when necessary. ‘A good selection of activities are key to providing your loved one with a happy environment,’ says Ben Atkinson-Willes, founder of Relish, a company that creates activity products and games for those with dementia and Alzheimer’s.
‘A common misconception of care homes is that people are stationary for most of the day, but many offer activities to help to improve quality of life. These activities should be engaging and varied to suit different abilities while focusing a balance of mental, physical and emotional wellbeing.’
It’s likely that your family member will have concerns about moving somewhere new, so it’s important to address these. You could, for example, let them spend time there in small doses – they could go for afternoon tea, stay overnight or for a weekend before making the final decision to move to a care home. This gives them the chance to get to know residents and the staff.
Before your loved one moves into a care home, decorate their room with personal and treasured items to help them feel at home.
You could also arrange for them to attend some of the home's social activities to help them build new friendships. Finally, make sure the home has internet so you can keep in touch regularly by Skype or Facetime, this will help reassure your loved one that they are not being abandoned.
By approaching the process of finding a care home with your relative’s safety and wellbeing at the heart of it, the move will be a stress-free one for everyone.