A Guide to Nursing Homes: How to Find the Right Fit for You

Moving into a nursing home for the first time is a huge life transition, and many people stall out when it comes to making a decision on the best nursing home for their situation. To help you out, we’ve compiled eight expert tips for finding the best nursing home for you and your loved one:

Ask trusted people for recommendations.

Starting your search for the best nursing home can feel overwhelming. To help you kickstart the process, try asking a small number of trusted friends and family members for recommendations for specific facilities long before you need to start packing up your books and women’s elastic waist pants. You can also ask a reliable family member to help you with researching potential nursing homes and scheduling tours. If you already have friends and acquaintances living in nursing homes, then we recommend asking them about the pros and cons of their experience so far to get a feel for the facility. Try to prioritize facilities located near family so that you will have people checking in on you regularly to ensure that you are getting a proper level of care.

Drill into the specifics of the ratings.

Besides personal recommendations, many people like to check Medicare’s Nursing Home Compare tool. We recommend narrowing your search to facilities that have four- or five-star ratings overall. However, you do need to look more closely at the ratings for different subcategories instead of just the overall rating. For example, some facilities that have a four-star overall rating might have a one- or two-star rating on really critical metrics such as staffing. Drilling into the nitty-gritty of the ratings takes extra time, but it can save you from choosing a secretly not-so-good facility.

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Consider your medical insurance and finances.

While we would all love to be able to choose a nursing home without considering finances, the fact is that money is an important factor for many older adults. Be honest with yourself about your finances, and don’t forget to double-check with your medical insurance to see if it will cover at least part of the costs of an assisted living facility. We know that insurance can be complicated to figure out, but don’t automatically assume that it won’t cover anything. It’s always worth checking before you crunch the numbers.

Decide what level of care you want or need.

Not all nursing homes can offer all types of care, so it’s important to be honest with yourself about what level of care you need now — or might need in the future. For example, you or your loved one might require around-the-clock medical care, or need a memory care facility that is specifically built to help people with dementia. Even if you don’t need that level of care right now, you might still want to look into a continuing care retirement community, which provides a broad level of services so residents can age in place even if they need more care down the line.

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Visit many different nursing homes.

Online research is important, but it only tells part of the story. There is simply no replacement for visiting nursing homes in person. Once you have created a short list of potential facilities, call them to schedule a tour. If possible, try to take your partner, a friend or a trusted family member with you so that you don’t have to tour them alone. This will also give you a second opinion to compare notes with as you debrief your various options.

Come prepared with questions.

When you get a tour of any assisted living facility, the staff is going to put the best possible spin on things — after all, they want your money! That’s why it’s a good idea to come prepared with a list of questions about specific things that you want answers to. Hopefully, many of these will be covered by the tour itself, but it’s always a good idea to be prepared. There are literally dozens of questions that you could ask, so we recommend taking a look at several lists of questions to ask at nursing homes and making your own master list that covers the highlights. Don’t be afraid to add your own unique questions to the list. Each individual has their own needs, and what may be crucial for you may not matter to another resident.

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Pay close attention to the residents and environment.

When you visit nursing homes, look closely at the residents and the environment they live in (without being weird about it, of course). Do they appear to be well washed and groomed? Is their adaptive clothing clean and fresh smelling? Are their fingernails and hair trimmed? Are the floors clear of clutter and the windows free of dust? Do the rooms smell fresh, or at least neutral? Or are there bad musty or chemical odors? Paying close attention to these details can help read between the lines and determine the quality of the nursing home.

Ask for the fee schedule.

Once you’ve narrowed down your choices, ask for a list of fees so that you can create a more accurate picture of how much it will cost you. You might be surprised to see what two nursing homes might charge for the same item or service. Similar to hospitals, some assisted living facilities have been known to charge exponentially more than the market rate for simple items like Kleenexes and shampoo or simple tasks such as laundering nightgowns for women, so you might quickly find yourself racking up bills that you didn’t expect. Pay attention to the fine print and be wary of fee schedules that seem to extort residents.

We hope this list helped you feel more confident about researching and choosing the right nursing home for your budget and needs. Do you have more expert tips for finding the best nursing homes in your area? Share them in the comments below so we can all learn from each other!

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