Understanding The Different Types Of Care Homes

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Our guide breaks down the types of care homes available

You’re probably reading this because you’re thinking about a care home or residential accommodation for someone you love. There’s such a variety of care home options to suit different needs and we understand this can be confusing. So we’ve put together this guide to advise you on what’s available and why it could be suitable. Helping you make an informed decision on the types of care homes and work out a care plan that’s right for them. 

In this article we’re looking at residential options outside of the home. Before making the move (which can also mean selling their home and other assets to pay for it), it could be relevant to see whether home adaptations and / or daily carer support could help someone to stay at home for longer. You can read more on this in our bathroom adaptations blog. 

And if you’re not sure if you should consider a care home or live-in care, take a look at our articles on how much is a live-in carer (cheaper than you might think!) and what else to consider when it comes to live-in care.

Sheltered housing (or warden controlled housing)

Independent housing that provides peace of mind

With sheltered housing, you get a self-contained property whilst also having support staff on site or on call 24 hours a day in case you need some assistance. It’s a great first step for someone who wants to downsize and wants the reassurance of support whilst keeping their independence. They will still do all their shopping and cooking so need to be able to manage this. Communal areas encourage residents to socialise (but they don’t have to – they do have their own flat as well after all!) and they will usually organise activities. There could be an age-range, or a requirement that all residents need to match before they are accepted. 

Renting or buying sheltered accommodation

You can often get the choice to buy or rent the property, and just like in other private housing there’s council tax, water rates and energy bills to pay too. There’s a service charge, which pays for the warden and up-keep of communal areas and on-going maintenance.  

Renting could be private, or via the council or your local housing association. Buying a property on-site will be from a private developer. As there’s no regulations around sheltered housing (as there are with care homes), make sure you do your due diligence with the developer and management group.

Assisted living

Helps people live independently whilst also providing care

This takes everything that sheltered housing provides and adds care on top. There’s a self-contained property (either rented or bought), warden support, communal areas and social activities. They also have tailored care provided by care staff on site. Whether you need help washing and getting up, or even domestic help around the house, the option is there. 

Paying for care

Care is expensive, but you don’t always need to sell your parents’ house. We spoke with an independent financial adviser to write our article on later life planning.

As the care provided is tailored to the individual, the cost depends on needs and is in addition to the property fees. 

The bonus here is that assisted living is CQC regulated so you have reassurance in how your loved one will be looked after. 

Independent retirement village or retirement housing

A great option for people wanting to downsize and keep their lifestyle

You generally need to be over 55 years old to move in, and the focus is on empowering the individual to keep living the life they want. They have a community feel and these complexes usually have between 40 to 250 properties along with services like health clubs, swimming pools, and a pub. 

McCarthy & Stone developments are a good example here. All their properties offer independence and safety, and depending on care needs (for example if you need help around the house, a support team on-site or a live in carer) there’s different levels of housing you can choose from or graduate to. Unlike sheltered housing, villages are CQC regulated.

To buy, you need to contact the developer directly usually and there’s options to rent, buy or part buy. Remember there’s also a yearly service charge and bills. 

Residential care home

On-site accommodation and personal care

Banish the thoughts of what a care home is. New care homes are constantly being built which are lively, welcoming and state of the art. All residents have their own en-suite bedroom. The homes are wheelchair accessible and new homes are designed to dementia-friendly building standards. There are communal areas (many now have hairdressers, gyms, cafes and bars – depending on the home, these costs may be included or extra). Every resident has their own care plan (for example, help with getting washed and going to the toilet, having meals prepared), and carers are on-site 24/7 to put this into practice. Records are kept for everyone and when medication is needed, a district nurse is called in.

You pay weekly fees (costs vary depending on the home). These could be funded completely by the resident (or family), or potentially part funded by your local authority. 

Working through care options can be confusing and stressful, and the more family support you have then the better. If you’re left being the primary caregiver, then read our article on siblings who won’t help elderly parents.

Dementia care

The question of ‘when should someone with dementia go into a care home’ can be so difficult to answer. What’s best for your loved one, the rest of the family, financially, from a safety perspective and emotionally? We’ve discussed this in more detail in this in-depth article.

Specialist dementia floors or units 

It’s estimated that over 250,000 care home residents have some form of dementia, and so it’s not surprising that many care homes also offer a dementia floor. People living with dementia can still have a worthwhile life and these dedicated areas help them achieve this. If a parent or loved one develops signs of dementia whilst they’re on the care floor, they can be moved to the dementia floor. Or if they’re currently still at home, they can move straight there. Like with residential care homes, fees are paid weekly and vary depending on the home. 

Nursing care home

Residential living with nursing care

What’s the difference between a residential care home and a nursing care home? It’s OK to be confused here – the two terms are often used interchangeably.  Essentially, a nursing care home provides all that a residential care home does but with on-site registered nurses. This could suit someone with complex medical needs as the nurses are trained to recognise any changes, and the home also has relevant equipment to improve quality of life. Just as they have dementia units, many care homes also have dedicated nursing floors. This means that if someone’s condition deteriorates and their physical needs move beyond the capacity of their original location in the home, they can be moved either temporarily or permanently. Like with residential care homes, fees are paid weekly and vary depending on the home.

If your parent needs nursing care, they may be eligible for Continuing Healthcare. This benefit is where the NHS provides fully-funded care. It’s a complex topic, so we spoke with a solicitor who specialises in Continuing Healthcare to find out more.

Respite care

A break and recuperation for the individual and the care giver

Respite care gives you a break from caring, whilst ensuring that your loved one is well looked after in a care home for an agreed short period of time. It could be to build their strength back up after an operation, if their care giver (ie. you) can’t look after them for that period of time or to test the water and allow them to experience a care home – you never know, they may want to stay. Depending on their needs, you can choose from a relevant care home. 

Arranging respite care

The majority of care homes across the UK offer this service. No matter the length of stay, everyone gets their own personalised care plan and their own room. Friends and family are of course welcome to visit but if this isn’t possible (for example you’re going away), they will be treated as a resident and looked after by the staff.

A shoulder to lean on

This is a big decision, and it can help to speak with someone impartial. We recommend giving First Stop a ring. They’re a part of charitable organisation the Elderly Accommodation Counsel and this independent, free service provides advice and information about housing and care options for later life.

How to choose the right care for your parent

Before you start looking at care, make sure that everyone is on the same page. This mean the person you’re looking for, yourself and any one else involved (e.g. other family members). There are many graduations of care, and depending on the individual’s needs, it may be possible to start with one option and then move on to another. 

Care Quality Commission

All care homes in England are regulated by the Care Quality Commission (CQC). It’s their job to keep people safe from harm, abuse or neglect, and they publish all their findings online (www.cqc.org.uk). When choosing a care home, visit their website and see how your choice of provider is rated.  Ratings are easy to understand – Outstanding, Good, Requires Improvement and Inadequate. If you’re in Wales, it’s the Care Inspectorate Wales, and in Scotland it’s the Care Inspectorate.

Lasting power of attorney and care

A health and welfare lasting power of attorney (LPA) can be really important to have in place before moving a loved one into a care facility as they can sometimes be reluctant to share patient information with anyone including the family. They may be very careful about who they speak to, as not everyone in your family might agree on a plan of action, so an LPA can make things easier.


In line with the growing life expectancy, there has been an increase in housing options to older people. Moving to one doesn’t mean that life is over – indeed, far from it. Independent living options are increasing across the UK to accommodate people who want a degree of support but still want to live life on their terms. And care homes have evolved to meet peoples’ needs and expectations. We hope this article has been useful and good luck with your housing journey.

At ElWell, our mission is to support you to help your ageing parents. We started the blog because we’ve both got first-hand experience of caring for someone getting older, and how hard it can be to find relevant, consistent information. Check out the other articles we’ve written (we cover mobility, independent living and more, including a section specifically focused on helping YOU the carer). 

Leave a comment and let us know if you found this useful, and how you get on. We’re here for you!

3 thoughts on “Understanding The Different Types Of Care Homes”

  1. You might get more money for care. The value of your home isn’t taken into account when calculating how much you have to pay towards your care. It will if you move into a care home.

    1. Jessica Silver

      Thank you for this comment. This is an area that we’re writing an article on soon! If you have any other comments to make or suggestions on ideas you would like us to cover, please let us know and we will try to accommodate it. Thank you, Jessica & Nancy

  2. Jessica Silver

    Thank you for your comment, really pleased you’re liking our blog. If there are any other topics around caring for people as they get older, please let us know. Jessica & Nancy

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