10 questions to ask a care home: Communication

10 questions to ask a care home: Communication

Senior woman lying in bed

Choosing the right care home for an older relative is not always easy, and it’s important to ask good questions when visiting for the first time.

Your questions will probably cover all sorts of things, such as activities within the care home, opportunities for exercise and therapies, the rooms, care for specific health needs, eating and drinking, funding – all sorts.

Leaving a relative in a care home can be challenging for the whole family, and good communications with the home – and within the home – is vital for peace of mind all round.

In today’s article we’ve adapted chapter 8 of our e-guide, How To Choose A Care Home, and outlined 10 things to ask a care home about various issues to do with communication…

  1. When you visit, notice any particularly vulnerable, poorly or challenging residents. How do members of staff interact and communicate with them? If you were that resident, would you be happy with the nature of the interaction you’re seeing, and the time members of staff are spending with them?
  2. Are there residents with speech impairment, such as people with Parkinson’s and other neurological diseases? What kind of two-way communication is there between staff and these residents? And do staff give residents time to get their words out?
  3. Is there a residents’ association? How does this work? It may not matter if there isn’t one, but it’s worth asking. The best people to provide feedback on a care home are the people who live there.
  4. Does the home organise relatives meetings? It’s very important for relatives to know what’s happening at the home – and to have some kind of forum for asking questions and raising concerns, if residents are unable to.
  5. Is there a written complaints procedure?And who is responsible for following up/resolving complaints? Have you met that person?
  6. Is there a suggestions box? Who submits ideas – and who reviews them? How many have been implemented recently?
  7. Notice the different nationalities and accents/languages amongst staff – and residents. Will there be any problems understanding staff – or staff understanding residents?
  8. What happens when residents receive post or phone calls? Does each room have its own phone – with a direct number? If not, is there a private room where residents can make and take calls? And if someone is physically or mentally unable to open their own post or hold a phone in their hand, how are they helped to do this?
  9. Is there a suitable space for a computer in the residents’ rooms? And is there an Internet connection? You may not think this would be needed, but a computer can be invaluable for things like Skype – to facilitate talking with family, friends and grandchildren, and seeing them on the screen at the same time. It can enrich someone’s life greatly.
  10. If residents are deaf and use British Sign Language, does anyone else in the home know it?
    Read more vital questions to ask when you’re looking for a care home. Explore our e-guide, How To Choose A Care Home.


  1. tony 4 years ago

    My wife went into a residential care home a few days ago. I have been caring for her for 3 years. She has early onset Alzheimers. We both agreed this would be best but she’s upset and I am missing her and we are both upset. My question is can we/I leave the care home and take her back home. It’s turned out the wrong decision. Can you help?

    • Angela Sherman 4 years ago

      Tony – in principle, yes, you can, if it’s safe for your wife to be cared for at home. There may potentially need to be a Best Interests meeting, and you can read more about those in one of the later comments by Bernie Crean under the following article: http://caretobedifferent.co.uk/paying-for-care-between-hospital-discharge-and-funding-decision/

    • Katrina Walker 2 years ago

      I am in full agreement with Tony. My Mother has dementia and had a recent stay in hospital, prior to this she was cared for at home. Abruptly, we were given a choice of 3 care homes and make a quick decision with no knowledge of any of them.

      I visited my Mother yesterday and was shocked at the facilities, she was wearing someone elses clothes, the room carpet was dirty, her clothes had been just left strewn about the dresser, the duvet…well I wouldn’t even have used this for my dog’s bed!

      There was no TV either. All for the vast sum of £1038 pre week.

      I am appalled, upset and angry, she will be taken out of there asap and will return home once we have all the bureaucracy in place.

  2. Maggie W 8 years ago

    This is all very well, but when you are being bullied to get your Mum or Dad out of an NHS bed, without them even being properly “assessed” by Social Services, you don’t get to look at anything, you just have to take what you can get. The whole system stinks. You are looking at an ideal situation, that just doesn’t happen in Real Life. Having said that, your questions are good, but in Real Life you don’t get the chance to ask them – you just have to take what you can get,.

    • Angela 8 years ago

      Thanks very much for your comment Maggie. You’re right that in many instances there is huge pressure on families to get a relative out of hospital and into a care home, and so in these cases there’s little time for the family to even explore different care homes, let alone find out about the care provided in each one. The care system is indeed a shambles. For families who do have the luxury of time in looking for a care home though, the questions can be useful. As you say though, it’s not possible for everyone – and that’s often due to the undue (and often illegal) pressure exerted by hospital dicharge teams. It’s not a good situation at all.

      • Maggie W 8 years ago

        Thank you for your very gracious response to my rather ranty post. I do think your list of questions is useful, but when we needed to find homes in a rush for my parents (Mum in particular as she had dementia far worse then my Dad) we had to just shove them in the homes that had places. There wasn’t really any choice for Mum, so it was a case of just putting her in a place. Since then the home she went to got closed down, this is all 5 years ago now, but it still worries me. We looked at the stuff online – CQC stuff or what it was called back then, meaningless I think! Am disabled myself, so couldn’t check places out in person the way that would be best to do. But it’s good you have a checklist for people to use. Thank you!

        • Angela 8 years ago

          Thanks Maggie. Feel free to rant away – there’s so much in our so called ‘care’ system to rant about. I agree with you that CQC reports on an individual care homes often seem to bear little relation to the actual quality of care provided in care homes. Many of these inspection reports seem to be about the written policies a care home has in its files and about regulatory box ticking – instead of the day to day experience of residents in the home.

  3. Bob 8 years ago

    What an excellent checklist this is. We are often too reserved and tentative when it come to checking out businesses or organisations we deal with. To have these questions and to see what they mean in terms of care is so valuable.

    • Angela 8 years ago

      Thanks Bob. There are of course so many aspects of care that need looking at, and families can’t necessarily check out all of them, but I’m glad it’s a useful guide.

      • Theresa 8 years ago

        This really is a very useful list and its so true that many of us don’t feel comfortable asking questions in case we in some way insinuate we think their standards are in any way lacking, but when we consider just how important it is then its worth feeling a little uncomfortable, there should also be a checklist of the more ‘unmentionable’ issues such as – do you wake any incontinent residents in the very early hours to get them dressed so you don’t need to change another wet bed ? do you ever feed vulnerable residents breakfast while they are sitting on a commode? if a resident owns expensive perfume or jewellery do staff borrow these for special occasions? I could go on (and on). We should have free access to care plans and be encouraged to take part in creating and updating care plans, I am a nurse and when i could no longer cope with his care needs I started working for care agencies in the hope i would find a suitable care or nursing home for my ill, frail wonderful dad, i worked in a lot of homes but i gave up my career and my dad died peacefully at home 4 years later.

        • Angela 8 years ago

          Thanks very much for your comment Theresa. The additional questions you’ve raised are so pertinent – and, of course, it’s a sad reflection on the state of care provision that we should need to ask them at all. I do agree that it can feel very uncomfortable asking questions – for the very reasons you’ve stated. I’m glad your father passed away peacefully in the end – and at home.

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