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5 Essential Questions to Ask When Choosing a Nursing Home for a Loved One

By Margaret Manning October 25, 2016 Lifestyle

Few milestones in life are harder than deciding whether nursing home care makes sense for a loved one. Unfortunately, as women in our 60s and 70s, many of us will face this decision in the next few years. Whether we have to move one of our parents into a nursing home or are concerned about the health and safety of an older sibling, finding the best possible facility is critically important.

In this article, I’ll provide a few questions that you should consider when looking for a nursing home for a loved one. Then, I’d like to get a conversation started so that you can share your own questions and suggestions.

Let’s start with a couple of questions that you should ask before even visiting a facility.

Comfy or Clinical? What Kind of Nursing Home Environment Do You Want?

Most people think of nursing homes as highly clinical environments. While it is true that nursing homes offer medical services and most try to meet strict standards in terms of cleanliness, not all nursing home environments are created equal.

Some nursing homes have a clinical look and feel – almost like hospitals. On the other hand, many facilities, especially those that have been constructed in the last couple of decades, have a decidedly more “homey” feel. Some nursing homes even allow their residents to decorate their rooms.

Of course, everyone cares about the quality of the medical care provided by each facility above all else. That said, all things being equal, patients typically do best when they are in a comfortable, happy environment.

The bottom line is that you should pick a facility that supports your loved one’s emotional health and not just their physical health.

Does the Nursing Home Have Medicare and Medicaid Certification?

Nursing homes are regulated at the state level. This means that the specific standards that they need to meet may vary. As a result, looking for a nursing home that also has Medicare and Medicaid certification can give you extra peace of mind.

You can find out more about the specific requirements that nursing homes that want to receive Medicare and Medicaid certification in this article.

Now let’s talk about a few things to look for when you visit.

Are the Residents Treated Well?

No-one likes the idea of living in a nursing home. In addition to dealing with serious medical conditions, many residents resent the lack of freedom that living in a nursing home facility represents. In short, not all nursing home residents are happy. That said, even if they aren’t happy, they should feel like they are being well-treated.

Feel free to talk to the residents in the open social areas. Just keep in mind that many of them may be dealing with dementia or a similar illness and this may color their perceptions of the facility.

After you take the “official tour,” don’t be in a rush to leave the facility. Find a comfy place to sit and pay attention to how the staff interacts with the residents. Do the staff members refer to the residents by their first names? Do they turn on their own music as soon as they think you aren’t paying attention? How do they respond to requests from the residents? What else – positive or negative – do you notice?

Perhaps most importantly, keep an eye out for potential signs of abuse. Do any of the residents have suspicious bruises? Are the residents scared to approach the staff? If you are attentive, you will get a good feeling for the situation.

Is the Staff Stressed Out?

Running a nursing home is expensive and complicated. The great majority of nursing homes have a sufficient number of qualified staff to take care of the needs of their residents. That said, if the staff members look stressed, overworked or tired, this can be a warning sign.

Keep in mind that provides a staffing rating for many facilities on its website. Their rating is based on the staffing hours for registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, licensed vocational nurses and certified nursing assistants.

What Kinds of Activities Are Offered?

Nursing homes are more than medical facilities; they are homes for the most precious people in your life. As a result, they need to do more than make sure that your loved ones are healthy. They also need to make sure that your loved ones are happy.

Since social interaction is key to finding happiness at any age, nursing homes that offer fun activities are preferable. Pay attention to how the residents spend their afternoons. If you have time, don’t be afraid to pay a surprise visit to the facility. You can often learn more from 10-minutes of passive observation than you can from a 30-minute discussion with the nursing director.

I’d love to get your feedback on this.

Have you recently gone on a search for a nursing home facility for someone close to you? What did you learn from the experience? What questions would you recommend to someone who is choosing a nursing facility for a loved one? Please join the conversation.

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The Author

Margaret Manning is the founder of Sixty and Me. She is an entrepreneur, author and speaker. Margaret is passionate about building dynamic and engaged communities that improve lives and change perceptions. Margaret can be contacted at

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