Choosing the Right Nursing Home for an Aging Parent

Nursing home residents playing cards

How would I feel if I had to leave my home and most of my treasured possessions to move into a nursing home in an unfamiliar neighborhood, surrounded by people I didn’t know?

That is the question I have been asking myself since my 86-year-old mother found herself in this position a short time ago.

The simple answer: I would be devastated. I love my house and the familiar routine of my life within it. I like the area I live in, its business owners and neighbors whom I have come to know and trust over the years.

The thought of losing them, along with my independence, is inconceivable to me at present. I am aware that in all probability, I will find myself facing this very issue at some time in the future.

Nursing Homes Are Sometimes Necessary

Apart from those who are fortunate to spend the last years of their lives in the bosom of their family, there are millions of aging people who will eventually need to go into a nursing home.

My mother’s experience about leaving her home, along my own feelings about this issue, has made me aware that moving into one of these institutions can never be easy. Even if agreeable to it, most will find it’s a traumatic experience.

If your parent is at a crossroads in their life, they will be feeling pretty vulnerable and in need of plenty of understanding and emotional support from you and other members of the family.

In addition to the emotional support, you can aid your aging parent in a practical way by helping them move into a home best suited to their needs.

For example, privacy was a serious concern for my mother during her stay in the nursing home. Several times she complained to me about staff knocking once on her door, and then coming into her room without waiting for a response. On one occasion, they entered her room and opened the bathroom door without knocking. Mum was sitting on the toilet at the time. She was embarrassed and deeply annoyed by this invasion of her privacy.

Achieving this careful balance of meeting your parent’s needs, while maintaining their wishes, may take some time and effort — but the wait will be worth it in the long run.

Take a Tour of Different Nursing Homes

The first thing you need to consider when looking for a nursing home is location.

Use the Web to discover if there are any nursing homes near your parent’s neighborhood. Familiarity with establishments and people in the area will make it easier for your parent to adjust to their new environment.

If there aren’t any nursing homes nearby, look for those closest to the general locality.

Take note of the name and contact number of at least six of these nursing homes, and make an appointment to visit each of them.

Before commencing your visits, make a list of the things you want to know about the general day-to-day running of these homes, including the welfare of their residents. Make sure there is enough room on each page to write your observations.

Make copies of this checklist, and take one to each of the homes you visit:

  • What does the home look like from the outside? Is the building in good condition?
  • Is the home close to the shops and general areas of interest?
  • Is it on a busy highway where traffic noise might be an issue?
  • What was my first impression when walking into the home?
  • Was the staff welcoming and friendly?
  • What does the inside of the home look like? Is it spacious and nicely furnished, or does it look cramped and unattractive?
  • What is the general vibe of the home? Does it feel welcoming?
  • Do residents appear to be well-looked-after and content?
  • What are the grounds of the home like? Are there nice gardens and areas where your parent could sit outside?
  • What are the residents’ rooms like? Do they have single rooms, or would your parent have to share?
  • If there are single rooms, do they have their own bathroom and toilet? (This is a very important consideration and one that I paid particular attention to when I was looking into a nursing home for my mother. She is an extremely private person and would not have adjusted to sharing a room or a bathroom with another person.)
  • How big are the rooms? Is there enough room for your parent to move around, or are they cramped?
  • Do the rooms have a sliding door that leads out to a garden and a little patio where they can sit and enjoy the view?
  • Is there sufficient closet space?
  • Are residents allowed some privacy?
  • What is the dining area like?
  • How many activity areas are there? What activities are available? Are residents frequenting and enjoying these areas?
  • What sort of meals do they provide? Do they cater for special dietary needs?
  • Is the staff friendly? Do they look happy to be there?
  • How many excursions away from the home and into the community are planned for the residents each week?
  • Is there an area or a room where family members can meet with their parents to celebrate a special occasion like birthdays, Easter and Christmas?
  • Will they be able to move their own bed into their room, or do they have to sleep in a standard hospital bed?
  • Are overnight stays away from the home permitted?
  • How much does it cost?
  • Does the government subsidize the facility?

Making a Decision

When you and your parent decide on a nursing home, the next thing to do is put their name down for admittance. If you are fortunate, there may be a room available right away; if not, your parent will need to go on a waiting list.

Regardless of whether your parent can move in immediately or has been placed on a waiting list, be mindful of the huge step they are taking and the mix of emotions they must be feeling at this time.

If they feel the need to cry, let them have their moment. Be prepared to listen, without judgment, to the issues and concerns they are raising.


Lorraine Kember is the author of "Lean on Me," an inspirational personal account of her husband's courageous battle with mesothelioma. She is an accomplished public speaker in Australia and is passionate about sharing her journey with cancer. Her website can be found at www.lean-on-me.net

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