One of the hardest decisions to make is whether or not it’s time for your elderly parent to move into a nursing home. Your mother or father wants to stay at home, comfortable and surrounded by familiar belongings, but their healthy may not allow it, or dementia is making it unsafe for them to do so. And as much as you’d like to care for them, just as they took care of you for so many years, you simply don’t have the time or resources.
Even once you have made up your mind that your loved one needs more day-to-day assistance than you can provide, there are still a few more decisions ahead. Not sure where to start? We’ve broken the process down into some easily manageable steps for you, and added a few expert hints as well.
First, What Type of Facility?
There are many options for senior housing, but the best way to approach this first and most important choice is to look honestly at how much care your relative requires — now and in the future.
An assisted living facility is most appropriate for people who are basically in good health, but who can’t quite manage everyday tasks like cleaning, cooking for themselves, medication management, and transportation. There are staff members available 24/7 to provide help with those activities.
In addition, the assisted living facility generally offers at least one meal each day in a communal dining room, as well as social and recreational opportunities.
Nursing homes, or skilled nursing facilities, provide even more care for elderly individuals whose poor health precludes their ability to live on their own. Here, residents have access not just to aides, but to doctors, nurses, physical therapists, and other medical personnel, as well. All meals are provided, and doors may be alarmed to prevent wandering.
What to Look for When Selecting a Facility
Whichever type of facility you decide on, it’s important to make sure that your loved one will be safe, well taken care of, and comfortable there. Don’t choose a facility sight unseen, or on the basis of a brochure. Visit in person so you can evaluate the place for yourself, and if you like what you see, bring your loved one with you for a more extensive tour. A few things to look for include:
- Professional, compassionate staff. All staff members should be kind, patient, and respectful when they interact with residents — and that interaction should be frequent. It’s not a good sign if you see staff gossipping, playing on their smartphones, or otherwise ignoring the residents.
- A clean and sanitary facility. All spills or sanitary accidents should be taken care of immediately, and regular housekeeping ought to have the place looking spic and span. Put the place to the sniff test, too. If there is a strong smell of urine, feces, or body odor, that could indicate subpar care.
- A wide variety of activities. Residents shouldn’t be left to their own devices when it comes to whiling away the hours, nor left in front of a blaring television all day. A quality facility will schedule card games, arts and crafts, musical programs, workout classes, and other opportunities for socializing.
- Appetizing, wholesome food. Good nutrition is essential for seniors’ well-being. While the food at a nursing facility might not win any Michelin stars, it should be palatable and plentiful, at the very least. Make sure the kitchen can accommodate your parent’s dietary needs, if any.
Get First-hand Accounts of the Facility
One of the best ways to evaluate an assisted living or skilled nursing facility is to speak with its residents — and their families. If the tour guide or administrator hesitates when you ask for references, or discourages you from sitting down for a chat with a resident, be on alert.
While no facility is perfect, any complaints you hear should be minor. It’s also a good idea to strike up a conversation with several staff members, too. Getting a sense of what it’s like to work there can tell you a lot about what it’s like to live there.
However, don’t be alarmed if, during your visits, you hear residents moaning and groaning or calling for help.
“It can be disturbing to hear residents crying out, but it’s not necessarily a red flag about the facility’s standard of care,” explains Kirby Farris, an attorney with Birmingham nursing home abuse law firm Farris, Riley and Pitt. “Dementia patients may cry out as if in pain or distress, but what you should pay attention to is how staff respond to them.”
A Few Last Thoughts
Take your time when evaluating a facility, experts say. In fact, it’s a good idea to do your research in advance, even before it becomes necessary to move your parent out of their home. That way, you won’t be rushed through what is ultimately a very important decision.
As you tour various places and start to vet them, remember to trust your gut. A facility may look good on the surface, but have something to hide. Don’t be distracted by a slick website or picture-perfect lobby. If your “Spidey sense” tells you that something is amiss, something probably is. And you certainly don’t want to subject your loved one to yet another move.
Have you begun looking into assisted living or nursing facilities for one of your parents? What has the experience been like for you? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!