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6 steps to finding the right care facility for a loved one

The search for a new home for a family member certainly qualifies as such a time.

Here are 6 things you should consider during your search.

1. Begin early

I would estimate that 90% of care center or nursing home decisions are made in haste.

And that’s unfortunate.

There are a few reasons for this. Much like the procrastination common to creating one’s estate plan, most of us have a deeply ingrained aversion to discussions about aging, death, and caregiving. And second, as mentioned above, the need to transition into a professionally managed care home or facility typically happens suddenly; usually after an emergency stay in the hospital. 

So, the first thing I would recommend you do is to start the search early. This means, typically the adult children, but almost as often, a partner, needs to tour residences in an area that will be convenient for everyone, and to begin this process as early as possible; that is, well before there is an emergency (hospitalization) where the unavoidable next step is a nursing home.

2. Research the menu

One of the offerings that a poorly managed nursing home is most likely to scrimp on is food. It is well within your rights, and, in fact, I would encourage it, to ask to sit in on a meal, or to at least observe what is being served. (If possible, ask a resident how he or she feels about the food.)

Remember, the tastes, the smells, the sound of a lively kitchen: good food is one of life’s pleasures. And the quality of the food in care facilities varies greatly. (As does the food service schedule and flexibility.)

3. Eavesdrop on interactions between staff and residents

The odds are high that any tour of a facility will take you within earshot of some staff-resident interactions. Pay attention to whether staff members are respectful, gentle, and patient. While it’s true that we all have different personalities, the way the staff treats a resident likely starts at the top and runs throughout the facility.

Speak with as many staff members as you can. And ask them point blank if they like their work.

4. Interview the owner

Residential care facilities are big business. For some owners of nursing homes, it’s merely a way to make a buck. For others, it’s a labor of love. There are some well-run and highly respected national nursing home brands. And, if you do your homework and begin early, you will also find smaller, family-owned homes, where the owner/operator lives right on the property.

It all depends on what you are looking for and what level of care is needed.

Speak to the person in charge, ask how they feel about their profession, their staff, and their residents. Some people take immense pride in taking care of others, and it doesn’t take long to figure out who those individuals are. 

5. Know what the options are for recreation and leisure

Sitting idly in front of a television 24/7 is an all-too-common retirement home pastime. Almost no matter what level of care is required, practically every assisted living facility should still have some type of recreational options available to its residents.

A friend of mine toured facilities recently, and there were two in particular that he liked. The place he eventually chose won out because it had a large garden with lots of seating that residents could easily access to get some fresh air and enjoy the flowers.

6. Clearly understand what you’re getting into

Nursing homes can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $12,000 a month, or more. If you are interested in a particular home, make certain there are no long-term lease obligations. Not every place is a good fit, and so an agreed upon 30-day notice should be in the contract.

Just because you choose a place for your loved one doesn’t mean they should be obligated to stay forever.

Residential care facilities must be licensed and are regularly inspected by the Department of Social Services. From hospice to a basic residential care facility, there are numerous different licenses. Some facilities have several, meaning they are trained to deal with various levels of progressive care.

Remember, senior housing complexes, independent living, and retirement villages (which typically provide only housing), usually do not require licensing.

If your loved one has Alzheimer’s or dementia, a memory care facility (over a more general residential care facility) is probably a better fit because, among other things, those homes are designed to keep residents from wandering.

Here are some other key questions you’ll want to ask yourself, and the staff:

  • Is there a private half-bath in the room?
  • Are the shower and bathing facilities easily accessible and close to your loved one’s room?
  • Are the staff members trained to manage the mood swings of its residents, and, if so, how?
  • Are there doctors or nurses on staff?
  • What is the average amount of experience of the staff members?
  • Where is the nearest hospital?
  • Are the facilities staffed 24/7?
  • What is the ratio of staff to residents?
  • What happens if your loved one needs more care than the facility can provide?      


I recently read an article that said that people are living longer, but not necessarily better. Few would argue that the earlier a person (or couple) engages in the planning process, the better the prospects for a positive outcome.

While the phrase “assisted living” conjures images of a sterile environment, it doesn’t have to be that way. When you conduct your search, consider it an act of love, and the process a search for a place where someone is going to actually live, and not merely stay.

As it is for retirement preparation, the key to finding the ideal home is to start the search as early as possible and to have a plan. 

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