Ten steps to the perfect care home

A good care home can be judged on two things: its atmosphere and its credentials. The first is down to initial impressions and personal preferences. The second can be demonstrated by the home’s accreditation, qualifications, facilities and awards.

Care services are regularly inspected by the Care Quality Commission (CQC), the body which regulates, inspects and reviews all adult social care services.

When you are ready to start visiting homes, it is a good idea to visit as many as possible. Take time to understand the different kinds of care home and independent living accommodation on offer, and the different kinds of care and support offered at each. Consider what your needs are today and what they might be in the future.

Try to meet with the General Manager or the person responsible for running the care/support service you are interested in and ask as many of the following questions as you can.

Step One: The Area 


On your way to the care home, look around you. Consider your journey and ask yourself:

  • How does the surrounding area feel?
  • Is the home easy to reach?
  • Is it conveniently located for friends and family?
  • What are the local public transport links like?
  • Which shops are available in the area?
  • What are the arrangements for on-site parking?

Step Two: The Appearance 

When you arrive, take your time and gather your first impressions. Ask yourself:
  • What does the facility look like the first time you visit?
  • Are the gardens well kept?
  • Are the staff you meet welcoming?
  • Do the entrance and surrounding rooms appear clean, warm and well maintained?

Step Three: The Ambience 

Once inside, think about the atmosphere of the place. In particular:
  • What does the facility feel like?
  • Is it warm and pleasant?
  • How do the other residents appear?
  • Do they seem happy?
  • Are they allowed to come and go as they please?
  • Are you made to feel welcome?
  • Are you offered refreshments and encouraged to stay?
  • How easy is it to talk to other residents?
  • Are there any restrictions on visiting times?
  • What are the house rules regarding pets?

Step Four: Your Room/Apartment 

Your living accommodation is all important. It is where you’ll spend a lot of you time. Ask:
  • Does the facility offer the right accommodation?
  • Are there single care rooms with en-suite facilities, or do you have to share?
  • Are the rooms and apartments spacious, light and clean?
  • How new are the fixtures?
  • Are there any restrictions on bringing your own furniture and furnishings?
  • Is there a nurse call button in the rooms?
  • Are a TV and telephone provided and, if not, can you bring your own?
  • Can you see yourself spending time there?


Step Five: Facilities and Equipment

  • Is the facility you’re visiting designed for older people?
  • Is there a lift?
  • Are the corridors wide enough for wheelchairs?
  • Are there handrails on the stairs?
  • Does the facility have a relaxing communal area and a pleasant outlook?
  • Is there easy access to the garden and surrounding area?
  • How many bathrooms are there?
  • Is there a provision for specialist baths?
  • Is there a wide selection of equipment including electrically-operated beds, pressure-relieving mattresses and cushions, hoists and walking aids?

Step Six: Standards of care

Make sure the home offers the standards you require. Ask:
  • Does the facility provide the level of support and care you are looking for?
  • Can it provide the personal service you need?
  • Can your see the home’s CQC inspection report?
  • Has the home won any awards or recognition for the support and care it provides?
  • Can the facility take care of your long-term care needs?
  • If it is a care home, have you had the opportunity to read the home’s Statement of Purpose?
  • Are you and your loved ones encouraged to have a say on the care and support process?
  • Are the care plans set in stone or open to continual assessment and review?


Step Seven: The staff

Well-trained, caring staff are an essential part of any care service. Ask yourself:
  • Are the people you meet friendly and helpful?
  • Do they listen to your concerns?
  • Are they interested and passionate about the work they do?
  • Did the manager inspire you?
  • Do the staff present a professional image?
  • Do you feel confident that they can offer you the level of service and attention you are looking for?
  • What qualifications do the staff have?
  • Is there any provision for staff training?
  • How many people are on duty at any one moment?
  • How many people does the facility employ altogether?

Step Eight: Mealtimes

You want to be sure you will enjoy the menu on offer. You may also have dietary needs that need to be taken care of. So think:
  • If you arrive at lunchtime, what does the food being served look like?
  • How are the tables laid out?
  • Are condiments available?
  • Is there a menu and how often does it change?
  • Are there fixed times and places for dining?
  • Can residents choose their own?
  • Are meals prepared on site?
  • Does the chef use fresh or processed ingredients?
  • Can the facility cater for special diets?
  • Are guests and relatives encouraged to dine with you?

Step Nine: The lifestyle

Consider the social and recreational side of life. You might want to ask:
  • Is there a dedicated programme of events, entertainment, activities and outings?
  • How often is this changed?
  • Are residents encouraged to follow their own interests and hobbies?
  • Are there group activities outside the facility?
  • How often do external entertainers visit the facility?
  • Is there room to exercise?
  • Are birthdays celebrated?
  • How are personal religious beliefs supported and respected?

Step Ten: Values

A good care home should have strong, solid values. Check:
  • Does the facility have a mission statement and clear values?
  • How often are quality audits carried out?
  • Is there a system in place for feedback from residents and relatives?
  • Are residents encouraged to express their views on services and care?
  • How open are staff to new ideas and suggestions?
  • Does the facility have a written contract that you can look at?
  • Are there any hidden fees or administration costs above and beyond the ones shown?