Settling In: The First Few Days of Care Home Life
Once the uncertainties and myriad of arrangements have been addressed in the days and weeks leading up to a person with dementia moving into their new home, family members may presume that things will become calmer and the path ahead will quickly become smoother as the often heavy burden of caring responsibilities are ‘handed-over’ to the care team.
Although many families experience a sense of relief that their loved one is now safe and will receive the right level of care, this can be accompanied by new worries or questions.
In the social care sector, we recognise that moving to a care home is a significant and often momentous event for the whole family and must never be underestimated. Whilst support for any new resident is essential from day one to help them to begin the process of getting used to their new home, it is arguably even more crucial when a resident has dementia and is trying to make sense of a world that is becoming increasingly unclear. As part of a true person-centred culture, that same level of support must also be afforded to families.
For many years, it was common practice for families to avoid visiting their relative with dementia for the first few days or even weeks after moving into the care home to ‘help the resident settle in’. In reality, this rarely works – for anyone. A new resident, who is often bewildered and anxious in their new home, not least due to their cognitive impairment, will naturally seek familiarity, as would any of us placed in an unfamiliar environment full of strangers. And many family members sit at home, wondering how their loved one is faring, whether staff are remembering the important information that means so much to their loved one, such as needing the bedroom lamp left on overnight or always making sure medication is taken with milk, and occasionally doubting that they have made the right decision, in moving their loved one into a care home at all.
Those early days and weeks are a vital time for families to learn about life in a care home and how residents can spend their days, and are a time for families to begin getting to know and learning to trust the people with whom they have entrusted their loved ones. Rather than feeling compelled to stay away to help their relative ‘settle in’, this is the best time for families to share their caring expertise with staff and ensure that the team has as much information and understanding about their new resident as possible.
These first weeks in the care home are also the ideal opportunity for families to feel able to ask questions, share their own worries and be supported through a very emotional period. Many families comment about learning the ‘rules and regulations’ in an Avery Care Home, but really, we have very few!
Other than restrictions due to illness outbreaks, families are welcome to spend time with their loved ones whenever they like. However, from a practical perspective, most homes generally ask families to avoid mealtimes unless their loved one requires specific support so that staff can focus on the quality of their resident’s dining experience. Time in the garden, trips out, and even visits home for family celebrations are actively encouraged and facilitated wherever possible, even if, during this early stage, when families are still getting to grips with so many new things, that may seem impossible.
The most important thing during this new stage of their loved one’s new life is for families to take one day at a time, share worries and questions with the team, and recognise that this is the beginning of a new normal.