Settling in to a Care Home

Moving into a care home is a life-changing experience. Christine Michael, whose mother is currently a care home resident, offers these tips on settling in.

For someone who has been living independently in his or her own home, adjusting to life in a care home can be a real shock. It may be that there is no alternative, because it would simply be unsafe or impractical to stay at home any longer – and for many people, there will be a sense of relief that they no longer have to worry about getting their own meals, or what to do if they need help at night.

But even though a care home may be a ‘home from home’, it is still an institution, and as with any institution, it can take some time to get used to. So if you are moving into a care home – or helping a loved one to do so – how can you make the process easier?

• Routines matter. Many of us have routines that we take for granted – for example, having early morning tea at 7am, or eating lunch while watching TV.  Care home staff should aim to fit in with your routines, rather than the other way round, but they won’t know how you like your day to go unless you tell them.

• Stay connected. Even if relatives or friends can’t visit often, there are lots of ways to stay in touch, from having a pay-as-you-go mobile phone for your room, to setting up a tablet or laptop so you can talk to and see family members via Skype, or simply keeping a supply of stamps and notecards so you can communicate by post.

• Food for thought. Care home menus should be designed to be varied and nutritious, but that may mean that they offer meals you’re not used to or dishes you’ve never heard of. Let staff know your likes and dislikes, and make a note of your favourite meals so you remember to ask for them.

• Attend relatives’ and residents’ meetings. Many care homes now offer regular sessions to air any issues that may be affecting residents. These can be helpful as you may realise that you’re not alone with a problem – such as the food not always being hot, or noise in the corridor at night.

• Bring in home comforts. Moving into a care home permanently means letting go of some possessions, but don’t deprive yourself of your favourite things such as a comfortable armchair, footstool, pillows, pictures, tea-making equipment, radio, iPod and so on. The care home should allow you to make your surroundings as homely as possible.

• Find your way about. Even if you are independent enough to leave your room on your own – to go to the dining room or for a walk in the garden – getting your bearings can take time. Don’t let fear of getting lost put you off; ask staff to take you a few times until you know your way around.

• Give it time. Moving into a care home is literally a life-changing experience and it can seem an alien and hostile environment at first. You may feel you will never settle in, but that should change in a few weeks, once you’re used to the people, the food and the daily routine. Care home staff will be aware of this and should try their best to help you adjust.
However, if after a few weeks you are very dissatisfied with your care, or it’s becoming clear that the care home isn’t the right place to meet your personal needs, don’t suffer in silence. It could be that you would be happier somewhere else and it’s time to think about moving on.

Christine Michael is editor of, a leading online resource providing products, advice and solutions to support independent living in later life.

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