Aging Options

Helpful Questions to Evaluate a Nursing Home or Assisted Living Facility

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Moving into a nursing home or assisted living facility is often an emotionally charged experience, for the resident and for the extended family. But sometimes finding the right facility, especially in the midst of all that emotion, makes the transition even more challenging. How can a loving child or spouse know whether he or she is making the best possible choice when selecting a nursing home or assisted living facility for someone they love?

We recently found this extremely helpful and very comprehensive checklist on the website of an organization called the Pioneer Network. This 20 year old group is made up of professionals in the field of senior living and long-term care who, in the words of the organization, are committed to changing the culture of aging. Instead of focusing on institutionalized care known for regimentation and cookie-cutter sameness, the Pioneer Network is dedicated to what they call “a culture of aging that’s life-affirming, satisfying, humane and meaningful.” The key phrase the organization uses, and one with which we agree, is that they want elder care to be “person-directed, not system-directed.” Anyone who has witnessed firsthand how some nursing homes are almost like warehouses for seniors can’t help but say “Amen” to that.

Sadly, however, many facilities for seniors have never adopted the idea of person-directed care. “Person-directed care,” says the Pioneer Network, “allows the elder to make their own choices, continue familiar routines and maintain their dignity after moving into the new setting — or in other words, be at home wherever home may be.” To help seniors and their families assess what the environment of a nursing home or assisted living facility is really like, the organization has created a checklist of questions they recommend you ask when visiting a nursing home or an assisted living care community.  Under each question on the website – 18 for nursing homes, 16 for assisted living – the website includes a drop-down window that shows the answer you should receive if the facility is truly person-directed.

We don’t have the time or the space to cover all these questions but let us give you a representative sample. Then we encourage you to visit the site for yourself. You can also print out a list of the questions to bring with you as you visit and evaluate senior living facilities in your community.

One of the most important factors in making your loved one feel at home in a new community will involve assimilation – how quickly the staff and other residents will get to know the new resident and how hard the adjustment will be. For that reason several of the questions revolve around this issue. You’ll want to ask what steps the staff in the nursing home will take to get to know your family member and to welcome them into the community. You should also ask whether or not your loved one’s caregivers will be a consistent group of individuals or a different, rotating staff each day. There are questions concerning personal freedom and choices, including what time your loved one will be required to get up every morning or whether they’ll be given some latitude when it comes to food choices and alternatives. It will also be essential to know whether you as a family member will be welcomed and treated as part of the community: if there is a Family Council, for example, you may want to get involved.

Other examples: You’ll want to know whether your loved one can have a shower or bath whenever they want one, and what type of recreation facilities they’ll have available. You’ll definitely want to find out how the facility handles residents who are dealing with dementia. Other more specific questions revolve around staffing turnover and the level of staff satisfaction. If a facility has an unhappy staff with frequent turnover, your loved one may be far less likely to enjoy a happy and stable living situation. For each question the Pioneer Network questionnaire gives you the kind of responses you should be listening for. The website also tells you what you should be watching out for as the staff takes you on a tour of the facility.

The separate questionnaire for Assisted Living Facilities is similar in tone and content with some questions specific to the personal care environment. In each instance the key phrase to listen for is “person-directed care.” At the very least you should come away satisfied that the facility cares more about the individual needs and wishes of you and your loved one and less about their rigid institutional routines.

The Pioneer Network website has a wealth of information and we offer it up as a valuable resource to help dispel some of the fear involved with choosing the right retirement facility for someone you love. We recognize that some of the things we fear as we look ahead to our senior years are things over which we have little control: the onset of ill health, for example, or economic recession, or the bad choices made by those we love. But there’s a great deal about our retirement future that we can control, provided we take the planning process seriously. Here at AgingOptions, retirement planning is at the core of our professional practice, and over the years we have guided thousands of clients, radio listeners and seminar attendees to make choices that help them toward a safe and secure retirement. We call the process LifePlanning, because it blends all the elements of “retirement life” together: finances, legal affairs, medical coverage, housing choices, even communication with your family. In a LifePlan, nothing is left to chance. Why not take just a few hours and find out more about this planning breakthrough? Attend one of our highly popular LifePlanning Seminars, held at locations throughout the area. There’s no cost and absolutely no obligation.

Take the next step and click here for information and online registration. Or if you prefer, call us for assistance during the week. Let an AgingOptions LifePlan help guide you into achieving your retirement goals and dreams.

(originally reported at

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