Choosing a care home for an elderly relative is one of the most difficult things to do. There are many things to consider, and one of the most vital is the degree to which your elderly relative will remain engaged with life whilst there.
We’ve all seen the stereotypical pictures of elderly people in care sitting all day with little or no stimulation. It is perhaps no wonder that in those situations they become even more withdrawn and disengaged.
Care guidelines state that people should be involved in their own care planning, where possible, and be able to exercise choice in their lives. If we take food as an example for a moment, choosing from a menu is all very well, but if the fixed choices are institutional and uninspiring, or simply not what someone would normally choose, then mealtimes – a vital positive element in a day – are no longer enjoyable.
In the same way, if the choices for day-to-day activities and daily routines are already prescribed, there’s limited opportunity for real engagement. That’s perhaps why so many elderly people describe life in a care home as being ‘like a prison’.
Studies show that having a greater sense of purpose leads to more sustained cognitive function in elderly people. This would suggest that it’s far better all round to have elderly people, where possible, involved not simply in choosing from a menu of care and activity options, but actually creating those options in the first place – and in so doing strengthening their sense of value and purpose.
This will more than likely manifest itself in stronger health and wellbeing.
You can’t really know for sure what a care home will be like until you’re living there, but there are careful questions you can ask to get a better feel for how things will be.
- How much do residents get involved in the day-to-day operation of the home? For example, if your relative likes gardening, what opportunities are there for them to do that at the home – and get involved in deciding what needs doing in the first place?
- If your relative has a hobby or special interest, how easy would it be for them to continue with that at the care home?
- Does the home have any pets? Or can residents bring their own? Resident animals can be a wonderful, stimulating tonic.
- Ask to see an activity programme – and find out how often residents actually go out, not just into the garden but out to somewhere different. Is there a specific named person responsible for planning and organising activities? Are there photos on the walls of various trips? How old are they and who decided what they would be?
- Does the home have its own transport, suitable for wheelchair users? This is vital if promises of trips out are to be upheld.
- strong>A care home brochure may say that the home ‘encourages independence’.Ask what they really mean by this and how exactly they do it.
- How can residents who are immobile get involved in activities in the home? A client of ours chose a care home for her father on the basis that it had a home cinema room. However, she later found out that none of the carers actually took him there.
- Are there musical instruments available to play? And are books and newspapers readily available?