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Four tips for choosing the right nursing home

Jay

By Jay Deratany, Founder of Deratany Law Firm and Writer

Finding the right place for you or a family member to spend the golden years can be a challenging task. It’s unfortunate that not all homes are created equal, and there are some that can actually put residents at risk. 

As you do your research, visit potential homes, consider your options with your family, and keep these important aspects in mind.

1. Location

One of the most important things to consider is the location of a potential home. The closer it is to family members and friends, the better. While you certainly hope that you or your loved one will form relationships with other residents, visits from family can’t be overstated.

While a weekly 100-mile drive may not seem like a big deal, you have to think about how realistic that will be in the long run. The farther the home is from family, the more challenging frequent visits will be. Don’t forget to consider emergencies – if there’s an unexpected incident in the middle of the night, do you really want to be a two-hour drive from the home? 

Now that many families are scattered throughout the country, it can sometimes be difficult to determine which siblings’ home a parent’s nursing home should be closest to. I recommend choosing the person who will have the most availability to provide company and support.

2. Level of care

There are many types of assisted living residences and each one offers various levels of care. It’s crucial that you choose one that fits you or your loved one’s present and future needs best. When a person enters a home, they could be nearly independent. But if they have a degenerative condition, their needs will change over the coming years and you wouldn’t want to move them after they’ve gotten settled.

If there’s a particular medical condition to consider, it’s important to address how various homes treat that condition. Some homes specialize in the treatment of residents with Alzheimer’s, for example. Also, you shouldn’t choose a home whose care would restrict you or your loved one’s freedom. The best choice may be the option that offers different levels of care in one facility – that way, care can be modified as needs change.

3. Quality of care

One of the most difficult parts of choosing the right nursing home is that you don’t know how good a place is, no matter how many times you visit. There are certain things that visitors don’t see. That’s why it’s important to check out official evaluations. 

There are many resources online that allow you to compare the public records of various homes. US News & World Reports and the U.S. government’s Medicare sites have online directories of reports by state. In these reports, you can find information related to health inspections, staff numbers and qualifications, and the kinds of care given. 

4. Insider information

Nursing homes can create beautiful pamphlets, a modern website, and an excellent presentation for visitors. But, there’s much more to a home than putting on a good show for potential residents and their families. It’s your job to look beyond what’s shown and discover how daily life is when there’s no one there to impress. 

Here are suggestions that will help you get the most comprehensive picture of a residence:

  • Multiple visits – Showing up at a pre-appointed time for one official visit isn’t enough. In addition to your introductory visit, return a couple of times to places that are high on your list. Go back unannounced at least once and try to visit on the weekend or in the evening, a time when some homes tend to be understaffed. When you visit, watch the way staff interacts with residents, listen as you pass rooms, and note how many residents are active versus shut away in their rooms. Try to be as unobtrusive as possible so that staff doesn’t try to modify their behavior because of your presence.
  • Talk to them – When you visit, don’t just take a cursory tour and then leave. Find a central place where people gather and make conversation with the residents, nurses, and visiting family members. This is a great opportunity to find out the real deal by making inquiries during casual conversation. Ask things such as: Do you usually see the same staff members staying for a while? What’s the most fun thing that you’ve done recently? How’s the food? What do you like and dislike most about this home?
  • Facility maintenance – Look closely at the physical environment. Check out the quality of carpets, furniture, technology, and bathrooms. If things seem unclean or shabby, it may be an indication of the home’s quality of care. Also, take note of the smell. It’s not unusual, nor problematic, to smell something unpleasant. But there shouldn’t be an overwhelming odor of urine as this would indicate poor conditions.
  • Participate – There’s no better way to get an idea of how life in a home is than living it yourself. On one of your visits, try to participate in some part of life there – eat a meal in the dining hall, take part in a recreational activity, or play cards with a couple of residents and see how it feels to be there.

Starting your search for the right home can be daunting. This is not a small decision, and your choice will have serious impacts on your life or the life of someone you care  about.

Start looking early so that you have plenty of time to weigh the pros and cons of each option. And as you search, use a helpful tool such as the AARP’s nursing home checklist to remind you of what to look for and help you keep track of your observations. 

Copyright 2014, Rita R. Robison, Consumer Specialist

 

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