We know this can be a stressful decision. As volunteers, we spend a lot of time in nursing homes and know what to look for. We hope these tips will help you.
1) Think about what the priorities are. If you are making this decision for a loved one, make sure to get their input if at all possible, and discuss with any other interested/involved family members and friends as well. For instance, should location be the top priority, to ensure frequent visits from family/friends? Or, if this is a short term stay for therapy, perhaps the quality and types of therapy available is more important. Other possible factors to consider: availability of dementia care, religious connection, meals, general atmosphere, and presence of other friends or family members in the facility. It will help for you and your loved ones to make YOUR list and modify it as you learn what will be the best fit.
2) Talk to people in your community. You may want to consult friends, family members, social workers, clergy, and of course health care providers (primary care doctor, etc.) — whomever you know that might have some kind of first-hand knowledge/experience with the facilities in your area. It may be helpful to call the long-term care ombudsman’s office as well (these are independent advocates for nursing home residents in most states).
3) Do your homework. A lot of information is available online about nursing homes and other care facilities, including through Medicare’s Nursing Home Compare website. Also, it is important to make a list of questions and call the various facilities you are considering, to find out things like how many people live there, what it costs, what the staff to patient ratios are like, etc.
4) Visit. More than once. This is perhaps the most important step. You might make an appointment, BUT, it would be an excellent idea to drop by sometime without an appointment as well, perhaps at a mealtime since meals are such an important part of the resident’s daily life. Use all your senses while visiting. What do you see? What do you smell? What do you hear? Keep in mind that some things which might be upsetting, such as a resident yelling for help, may not indicate a problem, but rather are simply part of life in a care facility with dementia patients. More important to notice is how the staff addresses the residents. Also, seeing a lot of residents in the common areas is a good thing – it means they are getting the residents out of bed and out to socialize.
5) Trust your gut, and take as much time as you can to make your decision. Once you have gathered as much information as you can, if you are feeling more drawn to one place than another, pay attention to that instinct. Also, be aware that hospitals have an incentive to discharge patients, and may put pressure on families to make a quick decision. But it will be important to ask for more time and to go through as many of the above listed steps as possible.
For more information, you may also want to check out the following resources:
Medicare — Choosing a Nursing Home
National Institute of Aging – Choosing a Nursing Home
AARP — Choosing a Nursing Home