Moving to a care home: a survival guide

06 March 2019 ( 08 April 2021 )

A guide for anyone who is helping a relative move into a nursing home or residential care home.



If you’re facing the prospect of managing the transfer of a parent or relative from home into a care home here are some things to be aware of before moving in.

Staff might take photos of the new resident

If the person is going in as the result of, or has recently had, a fall, the staff will photograph any bruising – to show they didn’t cause it.

Electronics might need to be PAT tested

Some homes require all electrical equipment to be tested before you can plug anything in. As Dad’s blind and sleeps badly, the thought of being without his beloved radio through the first night nearly finished him off and had us chasing around 24-hour supermarkets for batteries.

Help your loved ones keep their independence at home with Saga SOS Personal Alarm service, part of Saga Healthcare. No start-up costs, no delivery charges and the first month is FREE. Find out more here


You'll need to put room number labels in clothes

The homes’ literature says they do laundry, which was one load off my mind. (And it’s all in the price). However, all clothes must be marked, so, if you have time to plan, get a laundry marker pen. (Iron-in name tapes might seem tempting, but are no good: the homes go on room number, not names). If the person moves rooms, get in quickly to re-mark. ‘Laundry’ does not include ironing. If you want to see your loved one with ironed pyjamas or hankies, be prepared to bring them away and iron yourself.

Some care homes allow alcohol, some don't

Read the contract. Some homes have zero-tolerance policies on alcohol consumption (though Dad has a virtual bar in his bottom drawer). Some will take pets, useful to know both if you want to take one in, or indeed to avoid them.

Questions to ask when you are looking at care homes

Make sure you understand the charges for hospital stays 

Make sure you’re clear on the home’s charging policy for hospital stays and the period for which you’ll be charged after date of death. (For an authority or NHS-funded place you usually get three days to clear the room after what they tactfully call ‘R.I.P’; privately-run nursing homes average a week or until the room is cleared; the BUPA standard is two weeks).

The care home will have their own nurses 

If the person goes into nursing care, any care formerly provided by district nurses (bandaging leg ulcers, for example) will now be provided by the nursing staff at the home. If the person goes into residential care, nurses from the community will come in and bandage, but they may not be the nurses the person’s used to. A care home literally over the road from one surgery may be served by nurses from another.

You might not get a choice of GP 

The same applies to keeping one’s own GP. If your parent has a good relationship with their current doctor it's an idea to find out which care homes are served by their existing doctor. You can keep your own GP even if you’re out of catchment, but you’ll miss out on the regular ‘ward round’ provided by the GPs from the surgery which does cover that particular home and will also have to alert the home to contact the required GP for the standard six-monthly routine check-up.

Help your loved ones keep their independence at home with Saga SOS Personal Alarm service, part of Saga Healthcare. No start-up costs, no delivery charges and the first month is FREE. Find out more here


Don't be afraid to speak out

Buying a place in a residential or nursing home is like engaging the services of anyone else – if you want results you have to ask, ask and ask. Your relative will probably be disorientated and, frankly, depressed, and either more passive or more querulous than usual. But even if they are, there’s an element of ‘not wanting to make a fuss’ – you may well be on the receiving end of a lot of moans which could be easily sorted if they’d just speak out. Make a fuss yourself if you have to.

Most care homes are quite flexible

Having said all this, most homes are flexible and happy to help problem solve. If a compressed-air mattress or a TENS machine would be useful or if shifting the furniture round or an extension lead would make all the difference to the room, just ask.

The same goes for disability aids – raised stickers to help the blind or partially-sighted find things (the call button for instance); a bigger wheelchair than the standard one designed for a man/woman of about 5’8”. When it comes to trips out, all black cabs should carry ramps - but make it clear you need them. There should be no extra charge.

Take time for yourself

Take some time out for yourself and try not to feel guilty about it. It’s not easy seeing your parent or relative frightened, fragile, depressed and demanding. It’s not nice seeing the Zimmer, the commode, the nappy pads become regular fixtures, or the sick old people sitting in chairs, whether in their rooms or in the lounge, listlessly watching TV. In the early days and weeks everyone – you as well – will be grieving for a way of life lost and the inevitable decline to come – but in time, it is possible to come to some sort of accommodation with it.

For more useful tips and information, browse our care articles

Moving into a care home checklist

If you're packing on behalf of an elderly parent write a list of what to bring to the nursing home well in advance to avoid forgetting something. Here are some suggestions to get started:

  • Everyday clothes (with name and room number label), ideally enough for a couple of weeks
  • 'Old' clothes for messy activities such as crafts
  • Loose clothing for exercise (eg tai chi)
  • Extra shoes, socks and underwear in case items go missing
  • Warm clothing such as hat, gloves, scarf and coat for outdoor excursions
  • Smart clothing for special events such as Christmas dinner or evening activities
  • Photographs of loved ones
  • Ornaments and trinkets from home with sentimental value
  • Familiar soft furnishings such as cushions or blankets
  • Familiar soaps, lotions and shampoo (familiar smells will help them settle)
  • Books - even if your parent doesn't read they might picture books such as wildlife, garden or travel photography
  • Radio (may need to be PAT tested)
  • Art/hobby supplies for drawing or writing

Help your loved ones keep their independence at home with Saga SOS Personal Alarm service, part of Saga Healthcare. No start-up costs, no delivery charges and the first month is FREE. Find out more here


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.