There is a lot to think about when looking at a care home. Are the staff experienced? Is it affordable? Do they have activities on offer? Most importantly, does it feel like home?

These were just some of the questions I had going through my head when visiting care homes with my wife, Sheila. We had met as teenagers and spent over fifty years married. When she was diagnosed with dementia, I dedicated myself to her care. However, I was now ill myself and was about to start treatment. I had no option but to find her respite care.

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A challenging search

Sadly, the council was no help. As we were self-funding, we were given nothing more than a catalogue of different care homes. I felt let down. I had one week to find a place for Sheila and I barely knew where to begin. 

Ill and confused, I called around many places. I quickly discovered how hard it was to find somewhere with space for a person with dementia. Some places we visited were dark and cramped; others smelled of urine. Some felt more like hospitals than homes. Residents with dementia were served meals in their rooms, unable to socialise.

The perfect place

We were recommended one particular care home by a nurse who had worked there. It was only a few miles from our house. As soon as we stepped into the building, we were struck by how different the atmosphere was to the other homes we had visited. 

Sheila immediately warmed to the place. It was light and spacious, and had a big fish tank. The manager of the home, a qualified nurse, was very experienced. The staff were interested in Sheila – they wanted to know her likes and dislikes. They also had an activities coordinator who arranged singing and quizzes. Volunteers would come in to serve afternoon tea. There was even hairdressing salon where residents could go for some pampering every Thursday.

Home sweet home

Finding the right care home for Sheila was a huge relief. I was able to focus on my recovery without worrying about her care. In fact, she was so happy in her new home that, after I had finished treatment, she was content to stay on. I could visit every day, whenever I wanted. We had a routine that when I would arrive, she would throw her arms out for a cuddle. I became friends with the manager of the home, the staff, the residents and their family members. When Sheila passed away, I was by her side and we were supported by the wonderful care home staff.

We struck lucky

I feel very lucky that this care home was recommended to us. We would have struggled to find somewhere with so little information and support available. I used to work in the civil service – I know how to navigate ‘the system’ – but it was still a difficult and stressful experience. 

I think the indicators developed by Independent Age and Healthwatch Camden are admirable. They would have primed me with the questions to ask on a visit. CQC reports are impersonal and they don’t tell you what it’s really like to live in a place. Now I use the experience I have gained to help other people in my area to find care and support.

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