How to choose the right care

With 11,000 care homes for elderly people in the UK and an ageing population with increasing care needs, more of us than ever will have to decide how we or our family members will be looked after. Here’s how Benenden Health can help

It can be quite daunting and worrying for families, since it’s such a big decision,” says Sue Quinn, care advice manager at Grace Consulting, the organisation that has given Benenden Health members care advice for many years.

The decision to look for care might be triggered by hospitalisation or health issues, or simply someone becoming less able to cope at home, she says. “But hopefully we can take some of the pressure away, find out what an individual’s care needs are and research the best options to help people choose what is best for them.” So where do you start?

Home Care vs Residential Care

The majority of people would prefer to remain living in their own home. Introducing a carer, a pendant alarm and local services – such as access to a lunch club – may be all that’s needed to achieve this. A live-in carer will also suit some people.

“We find, though, that some people are keen to move to a care home because they may feel vulnerable alone and want 24/7 care and more company too,” says Sue.

Temporary vs Permanent Care

 “So much depends on why someone needs care,” says Sue. “They may have just left hospital and need some help to stay independent, or their condition may deteriorate so they would benefit from being in a care home.

“We visit at home to discuss people’s interests and their care requirements, and can help families make those choices.”

Level of Care

Determining the level of people’s care needs is vital. Are they able to wash, dress and walk independently and do they have other needs, such as dementia or incontinence? Residential homes may only have district nursing support whereas nursing homes offer 24/7 nursing care. Some homes now offer both.

Cost of care

Some funding may be available for people with savings under £23,250. Even for those with their own resources, there may be local authority, NHS or Department for Work and Pensions help. Being comfortably off gives you a wider choice of homes, although making long-term plans is important too.

“Most of our care advisers have backgrounds in health and social care, or indeed have cared for family members themselves,” says Sue. 

“So they can help families make an informed decision and ensure they are aware of any statutory services and funding they may be eligible for.”


Staying close to home suits many, while others prefer to move nearer to family and friends. Others want to be by the sea or in a rural setting. Local facilities are often important, such as shops, a pub and proximity to a bus route.

Room and facilities

Having an en suite bathroom matters to some people – others prioritise a phone or TV in their room, or a kitchenette to make cups of tea. Some want a ground-floor room, and you can always ask about changing rooms later.

“Taking a favourite armchair can be really important,” says Sue, “and many care homes encourage residents to hang their own pictures and take small mementos too, so it feels more like home.”


Some people are keen to keep gardening or playing the piano. “Ask about raised beds, which are easier for residents in wheelchairs, and facilities such as a hair salon,” says Sue. Some care homes also run day trips or film nights.

Dining provision

Check the care home can cater for dietary needs and provides meals freshly cooked on the premises.

Being able to share meals with visitors is important. “Many homes offer a private dining area when family or friends visit, instead of expecting them to join residents in the dining room,” says Sue.

Check that visitors can drop in at all reasonable times too.

Case Study:

Benenden Health member Tina Bykowski turned to the Care Planning and Social Care Advice service when her father had cancer and her mother Alzheimer’s.

Adviser Louise helped the family sort a care package when her father came home from hospital. But when he died, her mother refused to go into a care home. Louise helped them find a 24-hour care package, with the option of a care home later. “It’s working out very well,” says Tina. “It was wonderful to find a professional who could see the bigger picture. I’d recommend the Care Planning and Social Care Advice service to anyone.”

Care Advice: How Benenden Health Can Help it's Members

If you're a Benenden Health member you can access independent expert advice to help you choose residential, convalescent or respite care. 

The Benenden Health Care Planning and Social Care Advice service can help members with:

  • Assessing care requirements

  • The pros and cons of home care, sheltered accommodation, residential and nursing homes

  • Selecting the best care provider; care home or home care

  • Short-term and convalescent care following treatment

  • Respite care

  • Understanding the hospital discharge process and the workings of the NHS and Social Services

  • State funding of care, including all benefits and entitlements

If you are a Benenden Health member, to access the service please contact Member Services on 0800 414 8100 (Mon–Fri, 8am–5pm)