3 tips for choosing a good retirement home

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The decision to move to a retirement home is often difficult, and it is equally challenging to choose the right one. It is up to the person in question to choose, and the decision will affect their entire lives. However we are well aware that older people may find it difficult to change their familiar environments and their long-established routines. The wrong choice can affect their health and overall well being. When the decision to move is made and you have weighed up the pros and cons, discussed the matter at length and sought in vain for alternatives, the hardest part is yet to come: finding the best establishment so that the person can be happy. In order to help you find it, here are a few recommendations. 

1) Take the time to gather your information

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Such an important decision requires time and thought. Making the right choice depends on a number of criteria, and in order to compare the options, follow these recommendations:

  • Look for establishments with approval from regulatory bodies. Various establishments have different pros and cons, but with accreditation from a regulatory body, you can be assured of the quality of their services.
  • Ask about the specific costs, to find out what is and isn’t included in the basic fees. Certain services such as laundry, television rental, ‘dependency packages’, illness or disability management, incontinence management, leisure activities, etc. may be extras. Inform yourself in advance in order to avoid unpleasant surprises.
  • Ask for an example of a residency contract as well as the house rules.
  • Inform yourself about the care staff, the therapeutic staff (physiotherapists, nurses, etc.) and the staff’s shifts. Do they have enough staff? How many residents is each staff member required to look after? Do they have qualifications (for example in social care)? When is the doctor present? When is the manager present? If the person coordinating the care staff is only rarely present, this is a bad sign. How do the staff shifts work at nights/weekends/holiday periods? How are serious illnesses and emergencies treated?
  • What is the programme of activities? Ask to find out if this will suit the older person in question. How are outings managed?
  • Look for other people’s opinions on the establishment. This should give you a good idea of its reputation.

2) Apply certain criteria to sort through your options

As you have seen in the previous point, there is a lot of information to gather and there are also other factors to be considered. You need to find a good home in your area and be sure that this is suitable for the older person’s level of autonomy. Not all types of homes will be suitable, and the awkward question of money cannot be forgotten.

In order to sort through your options, consider criteria such as proximity to family, cost, etc. There are also extremely helpful agencies to help you out, such as, who can help with information and advice, as well as offering a helpline phone number.

3) Visit the homes

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Visiting potential retirement homes is a great way to see if they are suitable for your needs. By visiting several establishments, it will be easier to see what you are and are not looking for, and to make comparisons. If you find a place that you like, make several visits, at different times of day (mornings, late afternoons, weekdays, weekends, etc.). Going unannounced could also be an idea. Why not go there during mealtimes to see what kind of food is served? Here are a few things to look out for during your visits:

  • Family and friends should be able to pay visits in order to ensure the person doesn’t become isolated. Find out if there is public transport serving the location and if it is easy to get there by car. A place close to the person’s current home would facilitate maintaining social links.
  • Observe the residents: are they sitting bored in front of the television? Do they look as if they are doing well? Are they participating in the activities?
  • Are the staff welcoming? Are they looking after the residents well? Are they responding to their requests? Do their smiles disappear when your back is turned?
  • Meet the management team (the manager, the health director, etc.). Try to make the distinction between good managers and people who have genuine empathy for the residents, who care about the atmosphere, the services, the treatments, etc. In short, ask yourself do they have the ‘human’ factor.
  • Look around the grounds and see what general impression you get. For optimal well being, you are looking for open spaces that are warm and luminous, with corridors that are large enough for wheelchairs, with handrails in the corridors. Bright colours and artworks are a plus and the exterior should be looked after (not just a few plastic flowers and concrete slabs). A pleasant cafeteria and nice common areas or meeting areas for family and visitors are also great additions.
  • Choose a place in which you can bring a few familiar pieces of furniture, rather than having a soul-less standardised room. Ask whether the resident can decorate their room to their tastes (a few little ornaments is not enough to make a person feel at home). Every room should have its own private toilet (and maybe find out about the frequency of showering/bathing as well?). Find out about the establishment’s use of alarm bells (how they work, how quickly the staff react, what happens when they are pressed, etc.).
  • Take note of the smell -an infallible indicator!