Enjoy Christmas and Think Carefully About the New Year

19/12/2014 05:23 GMT | Updated 17/02/2015 10:59 GMT

At some point over the Christmas holiday many people will see older members of their family. This will for most people be a time of fun, celebration and great memories.

But for some, that extra time spent together can trigger concerns about an older relative's health, how they are coping and whether they need some care and support. Perhaps they are finding it harder to get out and about, aren't eating properly or are becoming forgetful. They could be in need of some extra help in the new year.

We know this is a common experience. At Good Care Guide, we see a big increase in visits over the festive season. In fact, the website normally experiences a 66% rise in the number of visitors in December and January compared with other months.

Having said that, discussing care with your relatives can be a particularly tricky task. But it is important to talk openly with your loved one. Ask them if they are concerned about their decline in health and if they would like a bit of extra help. Find out what tasks they find the hardest, and if they feel the daily chores of life are getting a bit much.

Help them come to the conclusion that having a carer or practical support could be a good idea, not only for them but their whole family who naturally worries about them.

Once you have agreed that care could be a good idea, think about what their care needs are and how can they be best met. Get in touch with your local council; they should provide a free assessment of your relative's needs (and your needs as a carer) and advise whether they can be met in your own home or in a care setting.

If your family member needs a care home, your finances will be assessed to see whether the council (or the NHS) will pay or whether you will have to do so. If you are paying your own care fees, it's crucial to get specialist independent financial advice to make the most of your money.

To find out about which care homes are based in the area you are looking at, visit a site like Good Care Guide. As well as linking to inspection reports by the Care Quality Commission, Good Care Guide enables older people and their families to leave reviews so you can see what other people's experience of a home has been, like TripAdvisor for hotels and restaurants.

Spend time visiting homes to get a real feel for the setting before making a choice. Speak to residents and staff as well as the manager, and see how well they communicate and interact with each other.

What are residents doing? How well staffed is the home? Have a meal in the home and speak to other families. Read the contract terms and conditions as well as the brochures and make sure the small print covers everything you want with no hidden extra fees.

Make sure the move to the care home is properly planned - whether the older person is leaving hospital or moving from their own home. Don't let hospital staff bounce you into a hasty decision. And make sure that the home can meet the needs of your loved one and is properly prepared for their arrival and knows about their likes, dislikes, history and so on.

Like all big decisions, the key to getting the best care is in the planning. Talking with your relatives over Christmas about the difficulties they are facing can help prepare them and you for the decisions that lie ahead.