As human longevity continues to increase at an astonishing pace, we are living longer and healthier lives, being fit and active even decades beyond our retirement. It may be hard for us to believe that, one day, we may be incapable of taking care of ourselves. However, the aging process is relentless and, if we live into our 90s and beyond, may play out over many years. It’s inevitable that a large percentage of seniors will eventually need help of some sort in their day-to-day activities.
Often, family members can take in seniors who can no longer live independently, or some sort of home-care arrangement can be worked out. However, many seniors will eventually need the full range of services offered by a nursing home. And there are so many choices available, settling on the right nursing home becomes a crucial decision. Check out each facility that you are considering thoroughly, and ask a lot of questions.
First, make sure that the facility is in compliance with all of your state’s licensing requirements. Find out what these requirements are, and make sure that any necessary licenses are prominently posted in the facility. Also, ask about the staff: how many licensed registered nurses (RNs) are at the facility at any given time? What other credentials do staff members have? If the senior that you are hoping to place in the facility has any special needs or is suffering from any particular conditions, is the nursing staff trained to cope with these specific circumstances?
Ask about social services at the facility: there should be a Social Services Worker on the staff to help new residents transition into the nursing home. The facility should maintain a “Resident’s Bill of Rights”; ask to see this, if available. Are residents with particular conditions, such as dementia, grouped together in one wing, or are residents spread around regardless of special needs or conditions? Usually, residents prefer to socialize with other seniors whose needs and capabilities are similar.
Obviously, the facility should be clean and, while it should not be noisy, it should not be completely silent either. Make sure the background noise level is appropriate. And try to visit during a meal time, so you can gauge the quality of the food. What do meals consist of? Can special diets be provided if necessary?
Take a close look at the infrastructure. There should be smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, and clearly marked emergency exits. Is it easy to move around along the corridors? Corridors should be wide enough for wheelchairs to pass each other easily, and bathrooms of course should be fully equipped with wide spaces and handle rails. It should be easy for a senior using a walker or wheelchair to move around freely.
Try to assess the overall ambiance of the facility. Do the residents and staff get along well with one another; do the staff know the residents by name? Do the residents appear to be alert, well groomed, and clean? Are the rooms fresh? Each floor should have its own laundry facility, and linens should be changed often. Other amenities might include a bank, a gift shop, or a hair salon.
Also, ask about recreational activities. How often are activities provided, and how are they supervised? Is there an exercise program and a fitness instructor on staff? Exercise equipment should be easy to use, and appropriate for seniors. There may be special areas for computer use, meditation, crafts and games, and reading; is there a library? Can residents go outdoors — is there a garden area outside, with footpaths appropriate for wheelchairs?
If your senior has special needs, ask about personal care programs, including rehabilitation (from stroke, for instance). If there are no trained physical therapists on staff, make sure that you can arrange to have a therapist come as needed to work with your senior.
And, of course, you will need to find out about costs. Medicare and regular health insurance usually does not cover long-term nursing home care, so discuss the options in detail. Perhaps your senior has long-term care insurance, or can qualify for Medicaid. Otherwise, you may need to spend down resources to qualify for Medicaid.
Be sure to examine at least a few facilities in your area, to get some basis for comparison. Given the range of choices, you will certainly find a nursing home that is convenient and suitable for your purposes.