No matter who we are, it’s safe to say that the first day anywhere can make us nervous. Getting used to a new environment is a big change and can take some time to get used to.
Now imagine we’re supporting the person we care for, into a care home or nursing home. That’s a big deal for both of us.
The move into a care home can be an emotionally charged time for everyone involved. We may feel a barrage of feelings from nerves, to guilt, to excitement to panic - and everything in between.
We may also be both mentally and physically exhausted, and feeling very fragile.
It’s helpful to know these are common feelings and experiences.
The more we know, the more we can feel prepared. Having some idea of what to expect may go some way to reducing our anxiety a little.
So, what are some helpful things we could know about, which will help us prepare?
This guide was helpfully created with carers in the Mobilise community. Carers who have gone through this first-hand (been there, done it). They’ve kindly shared their experiences, top tips for making those first few days and weeks as successful as possible
Carers' tips for settling smoothly into a care home
It can be helpful to feel prepared, as that is something we can control. Here are eight tips shared by carers:
1. Document what we do for the person we care for
The first week is likely to be filled with paperwork, and clarifying things like medication and dietary requirements with the care home. Having things written down on paper (or in our phones) is useful. It helps ensure we don’t miss any important information.
A carer in the Mobilise helpfully shared:
“Write up a detailed document of everything you do for your loved one in an average day and their key needs including any medication or routines. Sometimes professional care services aren't great at communicating with each other so it's good to be prepared with a document so you don't have to remember everything in your head when the care home asks for information.”
2. Find ways to help foster new relationships with staff at the care home
Having care home staff get to know more about the person we care for, and start building relationships in the first week can help make settling in a little easier.
For example, supplying as much information as we can to the care home can help as talking points for care staff to form relationships with the person we care for.
Along with documenting the things we do, another carer added:
“I'd also include some life history information so (paid) carers know what they might enjoy talking about - it helps to develop the relationship quickly.”
We can use a simple list, or there are templates, like our “one-page profile”, which are a great way to capture all the things the person we care for loves, hates and needs.
We’ve created a free template you can download here. You can save a copy on your phone, and print out the other to hand to staff.
Some other helpful prompts include:
Family photos (and details of who’s in the photos)
3. Make your own care plan with anything the care home might need to know
In the first few weeks, it’s also important to lay out our expectations with the care home. We can do this by creating our own care plan with everything the care home might need to know. The purpose of a care plan is to show the care home what care and support the person we care for will need.
For example, what are some of the actions we expect staff to take from the care plan? Is there anything challenging that they (or we) need to know?
“Make your own care plan with anything and everything that care/residential home might need to know. Be very clear what you expect from the care home. You can ask at any point to see your relative’s care plan.”
4. Don’t be afraid to raise concerns
It’s helpful to voice any concerns we may have in the first week. For example, are there changes we’d like to make to the room?
Being there in person means that we can carefully look at everything and possibly ask the following if needed:
Can we ask to be shown where the personal alarm is placed?
Is there any furniture we bring in that can be placed in a certain area of the room?
If there is something we’re not satisfied with, can it be adapted and changed i.e. in the bathroom?
5. Ask staff about what a “normal day” looks like
The first week is an opportunity for us to form a relationship with the care home team. As part of this, we can ask staff what a day-to-day routine looks like at the care home.
For example, what time is breakfast, lunch and dinner served? Are there set times for social activities? When should medication (if needed) be administered? Is there anything we should know that we don't know?
In our ‘How to find a suitable care home’ guide, we’ve listed more in-depth questions to ask care homes that may be worth revisiting in the first week.
6. Keep a diary of our visits
Once the person we care for is placed in a care home, naturally lots of emotions will follow. Sometimes, keeping a diary or journal of our visits can help us capture a piece of our experiences.
This is also a gentle reminder to know that you’re not alone and that these feelings are natural. If you do feel alone, connect with others in similar positions over in the Mobilise community, where we help each other out daily.
Another carer also shared that keeping a diary of our visits is helpful if we are looking after someone who struggles with their memory:
“A diary that you can write in as a reminder of when you visited and what you did or talked about as well as when you are coming again, this is especially important for staff to be able to reassure a person with memory problems.”
7. Don’t forget the sentimental stuff
The sentimental things that bring comfort matter. These can be photos, creating a music playlist of favourite songs, bringing their favourite games with them (can help with connecting with other residents) or asking them if there’s anything they’d like to take with them from home.
Helping us to go some way to making the new home feel like home.
“As a care home manager in the past, take some non-precious items as a reminder of home and copies of family photos ideally with details of who is who on the back and laminated. So staff can talk with your loved one about their family.”
“We had success with the enlarged laminated photos for people with dementia in care homes as the large size was more visible and helped to identify their own space often being carried around by the person for reassurance. Teams became very much more knowledgeable about the person's family and with better ability to calm and reassure.”
8. Label clothes or belongings
This comes up a lot! Things will go missing - from false teeth to undies. So anything we can label stands a bigger chance of being reunited with us or the person we care for.
“Make sure you label everything, send in anything that has a calming influence”
“A necessary task is labelling the clothes that you take in with a full name, you can buy them ready printed and fixable either by ironing on or with a press button fastening”
Finally, take a moment for you and pause.
We can easily be swallowed up in the busyness of preparation that we temporarily suppress our emotions. As much as it’s a big change for the person we care for, it’s something that will also take time for us to come to terms with.