How to Help Mom or Dad Find a Good Nursing Home

Tips for assessing needs, getting your parent on board
How to Help Mom or Dad Find a Good Nursing Home

Your parent planned to age in-place at home, but the plan is no longer working. Maybe mom has had a series of falls. Maybe dad often forgets to take his medicine. Moving a parent to an assisted living facility or a nursing home is often the next step when you’re concerned about the safety of living alone.

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Moving to a community where meals, medication management and other personal and medical services are readily available may sound like a good solution. Some parents will pitch in to help plan the move, but many older adults are not so keen on doing this.

It is sometimes a heart-wrenching decision for the whole family, but there are ways to smooth out the process.

Understand your parent’s anxiety 

Older adults often have fears about moving to an assisted living or skilled nursing center, says geriatrician William Zafirau, MD.

For instance, your mother may cherish her solitude and privacy. Your father may worry that community living is filled with social activities and meddlers. Others fear losing control over medical decisions and lifestyle preferences, such as what time to eat a meal.

“You have to make an effort to look at it from your parents’ perspective and find out what’s important to them,” Dr. Zafirau says.

Sometimes a family physician can help. The doctor can explain the benefits of such a move to your parent, including the peace of mind it will bring to family members to know that others will help see to the parent’s safety and comfort.

How to choose a skilled nursing or assisted living facility

Many nursing facilities have a long waiting list, so you should begin researching centers as soon as you see a move coming.

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A good place to start is the federal government’s Nursing Home Compare, maintained by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The listing of Medicare and Medicaid-certified facilities includes inspections, staff ratios and other quality measures.

Dr. Zafirau suggests visiting a handful of nursing homes alone or with siblings, then narrowing down the list to two or so to visit with your parent.

During each visit:

  • Watch how staff members interact with residents.
  • Pay attention to your nose and eyes. (Does the place look clean? Do you notice unpleasant odors or does the place smell clean?)
  • Ask specific questions, such as how quickly staff members can respond if your parent needs help in the bathroom.

“They should have answers for your questions and they shouldn’t be defensive,” Dr. Zafirau says.

Also, when choosing the best fit for your parent, pay attention to how close the facility is to where you and other family members live and work.

The federal government does not regulate assisted living communities, so their quality and services may vary widely. Visit several times at different times of day, including during a meal.

Ask these questions:

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  • Does the facility offer 24-hour assistance?
  • Will the staff help with bathing and other personal needs?
  • How do meals work at the facility (and what about special diets)?
  • What floor-plan options are available?
  • Does the facility offer rides to doctor’s offices or for shopping?
  • Does the community have a skilled nursing center?

Help reduce the stress of moving 

Whether your parent makes the move to an assisted living facility or a skilled nursing home, it’s a big undertaking — both mentally and physically — for the whole family.

Doing the following can help with the move:

Involve your parent. Include your parents in decisions about the move as much as possible, Dr. Zafirau says. Ask how you can best help them and try not to hover, he says.

Plan for furniture. As downsizing gets underway, design a floor plan to help your parent decide what furniture will fit in the new space. Help sort out what to do with things that won’t fit. Find out if the facility offers any transitional or relocation services.

Visit often. After the move, visit often to see how your parent is adjusting to the new environment. Find out how meals are going and make sure your parent is getting enough sleep. If things are not going well, you might talk to your parent’s doctor about temporary medication to reduce anxiety, Dr. Zafirau says.

Help with the transition. During your visits, you can help your parent meet new neighbors and get involved in relationships and activities at the new place. After a transition period many older adults find that they enjoy having things to do and more people around instead of living alone.

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