How do I pick the ‘right’ nursing home or assisted living facility for my loved one?

Be aware that you can narrow your choices by location and by whether they offer specialties such as Alzheimer’s and dementia care — at both assisted living and skilled nursing facilities. You can get a list of facilities from the Alzheimer’s Resource Center, Alzheimer’s Association, Area Agency on Aging or various telephone directories.

Check out facilities that interested you in your area before your family needs one so you can make a decision under less stress. Take notes on several facilities so you can comparison shop because that is exactly what you’re doing: scouting out some of the most important services you may ever need. Make a few visits, and make them at different times of the day. Take someone you trust with, preferably not a family member, as this type of person will be more objective and see things in a different light.

Gauge the atmosphere of the facility. Is it warm and inviting? Does it pass the “smell test”? How do staff members interact with residents? Are they treated with respect? Are they attended to promptly? Is the facility clean, both inside and out? Are there secure outdoor areas intended for resident use? Is administrative staff available? Does it seem like a friendly facility?

Ask for at least three names and phone numbers of families you can talk to who currently have a resident at the facility. Ask around in the community about the reputation of the facility. Any nursing home you visit must have readily available the results of its last state survey (inspection) so don’t be afraid to ask to see them. Or check out the Nursing Home Compare website that the government publishes precisely for this use.

Once your loved one is admitted, your responsibility for checking out a facility is not over. You can stay as involved as you want, and you should keep as prominent of a presence as you wish. Research has shown that proximity is the top reason most families choose a certain facility. This means visits should be convenient, and possible for other family members and friends. Use visits — by any others — to serve as check-ups on living conditions for your loved one.

Although there are more and more Alzheimer’s-specific facilities opening, it is not uncommon for them to have waiting lists. It can be months before a spot opens up, so if you’re at all inclined, go ahead and put your loved one’s name on a waiting list. If you are called about a vacancy and aren’t ready for the move yet, tell them. They are usually more than willing to put you back on the list, farther down, and they will call again.

For more information regarding Alzheimer’s, you can click here to view the Alzheimer’s Resource Kit.