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When is the right time for a care home?

As carers, there may never be such a thing as the ‘right time’. For some of us, we may not have a choice, if the person we care for’s condition is quickly deteriorating.

And as much as we can prepare for it, our emotions don’t always keep up.

Illustration of care taking.

It can be helpful to know that uncomfortable feelings and feelings of fear, doubt and even guilt are not unique to us, instead shared with many other carers.

More than anything, we want you to be able to find comfort from other carers who have first-hand experiences.

No matter what stage we are in our caring role, thinking about care homes can feel like a lonely journey. This blog is here to remind you you’re not alone.

“It’s not easy but necessary. It’s one of those decisions that need more head than heart” - Unpaid carer

What is a care home?

A care home is a home separate from ours, where qualified paid professionals look after a vulnerable person when they are unable to do so. Care homes are often also known as residential care homes. There are many different types of care homes, that provide different levels of care.

For example, nursing homes include a higher degree of care given by medical professionals. This is helpful for those with more complex medical needs.

Illustration of a man thinking.

What can we expect from a care home?

Whether we’re at a stage where we are soon considering care homes, or are preparing for the future, it can give us peace of mind having a good understand of what happens in a care home.

It’s also helpful to know that after the initial transition phase, most carers in the Mobilise Hub have had positive experiences with care homes.

What happens in a care home?

1. Our loved ones get to stay in safe accommodation with their own bedroom (these can be personalised to feel more homely)

“We made a huge poster that hung on his drawers beside his bed that had pictures, names, etc on it”

2. Meals are included and prepared (including snacks and in some cases a little tipple!).

3. Specialised health professionals help to provide thorough care

“My dad was at risk at home- we couldn’t look after him, we didn’t have the skills or realistic opportunities. They were brilliant with him.”

4. Care homes provide help with dressing and bathing.

5. Care homes provide social activities and entertainment, meaning our loved ones can make new friends.

“She was soon socialising and also eating again. She needed the care. But the transition was very, very hard.”

6. Staff working in care homes will often take care of housekeeping and laundry.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of a care home?

There are pros and cons in any decision, and the importance of each of these will be different for each of us.

Advantages of a care home

Carers in the Mobilise community have shared that a care home was a tough but often right decision for them. Here are some of the benefits they included:

1. Care homes can provide a safe environment for the person we care for

to live in

“My Dad had Alzheimer's and wasn't safe in his home, even with support from carers. It was desperately difficult”
“Very difficult decision but ultimately it was for her own safety”

2. Staff who are passionate about what they do

“They looked after her with so much love and respect”

3. Companionship for the person we care for

“One day she asked me to wait while she helped her friend. Those words were better than "you won the lottery!"
“My Mum had more friends in a care home. I could focus on giving her joy and quality of life”

4. Reassurance that the person we care for is in capable, skilled hands and their medical needs are met

“It was heartbreaking but we could not offer her the medical and personal hygiene care she required”

5. We’re able to place our own mental and physical health at the forefront again

“If not now, it’s later. When you’re so tired and worn down you are not giving him your best”

Disadvantages of a care home

Despite the advantages for both us and the person we care for, the physical and psychological transition is often the hardest part.

1. We may experience feelings of guilt, worry or doubt for a while

Deciding whether to put our loved ones in a care home can bring complex emotions, including the common worry over whether we’ve made the right decision.

And then comes along the emotional rollercoaster of dealing with the practicalities of finding a care home we feel comfortable with and trust.

If we’re juggling these thoughts right now, we may find it reassuring to talk to other carers directly who have gone through this in the Mobilise Hub. We’re a kind bunch and would be more than happy to listen.

2. Resistance from the person we care for

For some of us, the person we care for may have expressed that they do not want to be put in a care home.

On top of managing our own guilt, hearing these words make it even harder for us. Even if we wanted to start having these early conversations, there’s a risk of possibilities being shut down earlier.

For others, finding a care home may happen quickly. Either due to an emergency which causes the person we care for’s condition to deteriorate rapidly. And sometimes, we may find that we’re battling between respecting wishes and reality.

Illustration of a living room.

3. Sentimental feelings of leaving their home

Moving into a care home is a significant, physical and emotional change in our and the person we care for’s lives.

Although this is difficult, it can be helpful to remind ourselves that our decision is done out of love and care - for the person we care for and ourselves. And as time passes, things will fall into place.

When is the right time to put someone in a care home?

We’ve opened up this difficult subject with carers in the Mobilise Hub. Some of whom have experienced this themselves, and some who are in the beginning thought stages.

Here are some of the signs that felt right for them:

  • “When the paid carer became unable to manage our Dad in their own home, we started discussing a residential care home”.

  • “When my own set of health problems grew, I was unable to look after my mum the best I could.”

  • It can be a gradual realisation. Or during a short respite break. We may realise that we are emotionally exhausted from caring and no longer giving our best. We feel like we can no longer cope.

  • We feel constant anxiety when leaving the person we care for, that it stops us from being able to do simple things for ourselves. Such as going out for a couple of hours.

Liz, who cares for her husband, talks about the guilt she felt placing her husband in a care home, and the unexpected turn it had for her.

Early thinking - Questions we can ask ourselves

It’s clear that there is no simple answer to when the ‘right time’ is. After reading other carers' experiences and thoughts, perhaps it’s a reminder that answers sometimes come from within, rather than from others.

Taking some time out with pen and paper on hand to think through the following questions might be helpful. Or we might have a group discussion with others involved in the decision,

  1. How safe and sustainable is the current situation?

  2. What facts and information are we using to help with decision-making?

  3. If there are feelings of guilt where are these coming from, are they justified?

  4. Resistance from the person being cared for is natural. What other options are there and what are the advantages and disadvantages of those?

  5. Who might be a neutral person to talk things through with?

  6. What change in the situation would mean a move to a care home might be right in the future?

As carers, we do the best we can to look after our loved ones. This includes emotional, practical and financial support.

Illustration of two friends chatting on a couch.

So it’s important to remind ourselves that our wellbeing also matters. That it’s OK and normal to feel guilt or resentment. And that we should take time to look after ourselves too.

Care home versus homecare

What other options are there aside from care homes?

Before considering a care home, it can be helpful to understand other options available. Allowing us to make the best decision for ourselves and the person we care for. Homecare is a form of assisted living in the home. This can allow the person we care for to stay in their current home for longer.

To learn more, we have a helpful guide on ‘Getting paid care at home’ including funding options that may be available from our local councils.

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