Getting started with social care

Deciding what support is right for you and the person you support.

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    After a dementia diagnosis, you may want to think about any help you or the person you support might need with everyday tasks and staying independent at home. We explain how social care can help, what they do, and how to access this support.

    What is social care?

    Social care support can help people living with dementia with their everyday tasks, and to stay independent at home. If you know someone who needs help to manage with their dementia and other health conditions, social care is available. It may also be available for family, friends or neighbours who also help to support them.

    The local authority (council) might provide some services, or the individual may have to pay for some services. The person you support may be entitled to financial benefits. These can help to pay for physical equipment such as bathroom hand-rails and personal alarms. They can also help with the costs of care services to look after the person’s wellbeing and keep them in contact with other people, such as befriending and activities. Social care can also provide respite support for family carers.

    Examples of social care support:

    • Meals on wheels
    • Home adaptations such as ramps, stair lifts, grab rails and walk-in showers
    • Equipment and household aids such as chairs, toilet seats, and kitchen equipment
    • Personal alarms and home security systems such as fall-alert pendants
    • Help at home from a paid carer (also called ‘homecare’ or ‘domiciliary care’)
    • Day centres
    • Different types of housing, such as sheltered housing and care homes

    The NHS website has useful information that might be a helpful starting point in understanding what social care is, as well as what support is available.

    Deciding on the right support

    You, or the person you support, may not want or need any help from social care in the early stages of dementia. However, planning ahead will help the person you support to manage life and prepare for their future with dementia. Read how you can use services to stay independent and help you to be overwhelmed here.

    Sadie supports her husband Graham. She told us:

    One great tip that somebody gave me was don’t wait till you’re at crisis point before you start contacting the local council about support. Because you’re not going to be in any frame of mind if you leave it until you can’t cope or you’ve got a crisis. So really, by the time it got to the point where I thought I needed some help and advice, I knew the numbers to ring and they also had my details on file.”

    Making sense of what types of social care support are available, and what is right for you can be confusing. Below are some options. This might help you and the person you support to decide what feels right.
    You can also speak to the Alzheimer’s Society’s Dementia Connect support line to help with making decisions about social care support – 0300 150 3456.

    Home adaptations and equipment

    You, and the person you support, may decide that they are able to live at home independently with additional equipment or making some changes to their home. Equipment such as clocks with larger displays of the date and time, and devices that give reminders, for example, for the person to take their medication might help with their everyday tasks. These products are also called ‘assistive technology’. You can purchase these products from online websites such as the Alzheimer’s Society’s online shop.

    Making changes to the person’s home may also help. They may be able to make changes, such as getting hand-rails installed, better lighting, or putting in a walk-in shower. The person you support will need to be assessed by their local council to find out if they are eligible for financial and practical support with making changes to their home. You can contact their local council to get started. Find out who their local council adult social care service is here.

    Read more about how you can make your home dementia friendly here.


    Many people living with dementia want to stay in the familiar surroundings of their own homes. Having a paid carer come into their home to support them with their everyday tasks can be a huge help. Homecare can help the person with things like getting up in the morning (including washing and dressing), making meals, and household tasks like cleaning or ironing. They can also help the person to attend medical appointments or support groups in their local community. Some people find their homecare workers to be good company, particularly if they live alone. As someone supporting a person with dementia, you may also find that you need breaks or some time to yourself. Homecare can provide respite support (temporary care provided by someone other than yourself).

    Homecare is flexible and can help people with dementia to remain independent at home. They might only need a carer for an hour each week, or for several hours each day. Some people might choose to have a homecare worker move into their home (this is known as a ‘live-in carer’).

    A person might choose to have homecare if:

    • They wish to remain living in their own home and it is safe for them to do so
    • They need help to continue their daily routines, such as washing, dressing, cooking, or going out in their local community

    Some homecare providers have their own websites with information about social care and the support they can provide. Some examples of national organisations are Home Instead, Helping Hands, and Bluebird Care.
    Homecare UK is a national website which can help you find different providers of homecare support in the person’s local area. You can search for homecare providers that are dementia care specialists.

    Day centres

    Adult day centres can help to improve quality of life for people with dementia. They can help the person to stay independent and connected to other people. The person you support might like to attend a day centre once a week, or several times a week. Some day centres specialise in supporting people with dementia. However, most will be open to anyone to attend.

    The person you support can self-refer (sign themselves up) to attend a day centre, or someone else can refer them (such as a family member, friend, or the person’s GP). Some day centres offer a ‘taster day’ so you and the person you support can see if they like it before joining.

    Age UK is a well-known charity who provide services for older people. Their day centres give older people practical help and opportunities to socialise. They are run by trained staff and volunteers. Activities include singing, quizzes, and arts and crafts, as well as a hot lunch and refreshments throughout the day. You can find if there is an Age UK day centre close to where the person you support lives.

    The Alzheimer’s Society run day centres just for people living with dementia. The person you support can try new hobbies such as gardening and cooking. They can also get support with anything they might need from staff who are experienced in supporting people affected by dementia. You can find if there is an Alzheimer’s Society day centre close to where the person lives.

    There may be other independent day services in their local area. The Elderly Accommodation Counsel is an organisation that can help you find day centres close to where the person you support lives:

    Start your own dementia toolkit
    Clicking here will open the toolkit information page where you can learn how to create your own dementia toolkit.

    Alternative housing options

    You, or the person you support, may decide that they are no longer able to live at home. They may no longer enjoy living at home or may not feel safe at home. Other housing options are available. These include sheltered housing and supported living schemes, residential care homes, and nursing homes.
    We have more information on making decisions like this in our article on planning for the future.

    Sheltered Housing

    Sheltered housing is a type of accommodation with support on-hand to help people to live independently. Usually, a warden or other support staff provide support and 24-hour emergency help. There will also be shared areas such as lounges or gardens, and l activities to help people stay connected to others. However, help with household tasks such as cooking and cleaning and help with personal care (like bathing or going to the toilet) is not usually given. You or the person you support will need to arrange these through their local council or a private care provider.

    Sheltered housing is usually only available to people aged over 55. It is not typically inspected for care quality. People can choose to rent or buy their sheltered housing home. There will be extra costs for care and support as part of the scheme. For example there will be a service charge, and charges to cover normal living costs such as council tax and bills. The person you support may be able to get help with some of the costs through Housing Benefits or Pension Credit, depending on whether they decide to rent or buy. Age UK provides more information on sheltered housing.

    Supported living

    Supported living may also be called ‘assisted living’ or ‘extra care housing’. This is another type of housing with on-site care included. Supported living offers more support than sheltered housing. Supported living means that each person will have their own self-contained home, but staff are usually available 24 hours a day to help. Help includes things like washing, dressing, bathing, and taking medication.

    Like sheltered housing, the cost of supported living depends on several things. You and the person you support will need to think about whether they want to rent or buy their supported living home, the care they will need, and where they want to live. As well as the normal costs of living at home (such as. taxes, bills, water rates), there will be ongoing charges for the person’s care and support services. They may be able to get help with the cost of supported living services, through Housing Benefit, Pension Credit or their local authority (council).

    Age UK provides more information on this type of support.  They offer a free advice line where you or the person you support can discuss their care options – 0800 678 1602. You can find options for supported living here.

    Care homes and nursing homes

    As the needs of the person you support change, they might get the care they need by moving into a care home. People may also move into a care home because their personal circumstances change and it may become difficult for them to continue living in their own home. This can be a difficult decision for the person you support, and those around them to make. However, being prepared can help to make this decision easier.

    There are two main types of care homes:

    • Residential care homes. These provide a safe environment where people will receive support to meet their daily needs like washing, dressing, and taking medication, 24 hours a day. They also have daily activities and opportunities for socialising.
    • Nursing homes provide 24 hour support from qualified nurses for people with a higher level of care needs, including medical needs. This might be needed when someone is discharged from hospital (short-term), or for people with longer-term care needs. Nursing homes also offer opportunities for activities and socialising.

    Care homes are run by private business, local councils, or voluntary or charitable organisations. Many care homes provide both residential and nursing care. Not all care homes can support people with dementia.
    The person you support will need to get a new needs assessment from social services to decide if a care home is the right step for them, followed by a financial assessment.

    You, and the person you support, might find it helpful to visit a few different care homes to choose one that is right for them. Taking a friend or other relatives with can be helpful too. It is important to phone or email to book a visit in advance to make sure a staff member is available to show you around. You can request a list of care homes from the person’s local council, or The Elderly Accommodation Counsel.The Carehome UK is a national site which can help the person find different providers of all care home types including specialist dementia care.

    Useful resources to help with finding a care home that is right for the person you support:

    • Independent Age have some more information to help you and the person you support to chooe the right care home for them. They also have an urgent helpline for anyone who is under pressure to find a care home quickly – 0800 319 6789.
    • The NHS have a list of questions to consider that can help you and the person you support to decide which care home is right for them.
    • You can read real stories about peoples’ experiences of moving into a care home here.
    • You can find booklets from the Alzheimer’s Society to help you and the person you support to plan ahead and make decisions that are right for them.
    • You can search the NHS directory of residential care homes  and nursing homes.

    Care Quality

    Social care services such as homecare, day centres and care homes are different in the quality of services they provide. The Care Quality Commission (CQC) is a government agency that is responsible for inspecting and rating care services in England, Wales and Scotland. You might like to read their reports on individual service providers to help you and the person you support to choose which is right for them:

    Arranging and paying for social care support

    Most social care services are means tested (dependent on the person’s income or assets). This means that the person you support will need an assessment to work out if their local authority (council) will cover their social care costs in full or help them with paying towards the costs. You, or the person you support can apply for a care needs assessment through their local council to help work out which services and financial support they may be entitled to. If they are not eligible for financial support through their local council, they will need to pay for this themselves.

    There is some support available which is not means tested. This includes some equipment and home adaptations, benefits, help after coming home from hospital, NHS continuing healthcare, and NHS-funded nursing care in a care home.

    We have more information about managing money, and financial benefits and support.