There is a considerable body of literature on the importance of effective shift handovers in hospitals and other health-care settings but less is known about the transfer of information between staff starting and completing stints of paid work in care homes. In the first of two articles considering this under-explored topic, we report findings from a scoping review examining what is known about shift-to-shift handovers in care homes for older people and their equivalents. It is based on systematic searches of electronic databases of English-language journals on ageing and internet searches for material published between January 2005 and October 2016. Guidance from the regulatory body for health and social care in England, the Care Quality Commission, highlights the importance of handovers in care homes but the degree to which they are embedded into care home routines appears to be variable, influenced by factors such as workplace culture, shift patterns and the extent to which they involve all those on duty or just those with professional qualifications. Staffing shortages and whether or not members of staff are paid for their time attending handovers appear to be further constraints on their use. We conclude that there is considerable scope for further research in this field to identify and develop good practice.