A recent New York Times article identified 5 tips for finding a reliable nursing home. But there’s a sixth tip, and it may be the most important: Use all your senses.
You must remember, too, that the term “nursing home” has become a catchall phrase that, these days, seems to include not just 24-hour hospital-type care, but also dementia care, assisted living, even independent living and probably more. The needs are similar but also different.
So, for your senses:
You have already read all the inspection reports and reviews, but you need to take a look around the facility. What about the landscaping? Flowering plants, well maintained? Is there a garden or patio where patients can sit or walk outside, weather permitting?
What about the interior? Institutional beige or cheery color on the walls? Are there windows for the rooms? Bright and light or dark and gloomy? What about an activity center? Are there things for patients to do? Bingo? Card games? Or are patients in wheelchairs just lined up staring out in the hall or maybe at a TV set with sound either too low or too loud?
What about the décor? Dr. Bill Thomas has shown that plants in a room, a bird in a cage or maybe a dog or two roaming — waiting to be petted — improves patient outlook.
What else do you see? Your visual inspection is important, so be thorough.
First thing you need to listen for are any small cries for “help” that go unnoticed. Hopefully that’s not the case, but you need to do some eavesdropping, too. Do staff members interact with patients and call them by name, not sweetie or honey? Do they make eye contact and try to communicate where possible?
Is there music playing in the background? Is it too loud or too soft? Same for any television sets that may be on. Can patients who are watching hear the sound? Is it so loud it is annoying to other patients?
This one is easy because you know what you might smell. Are patients changed promptly, as needed, or left unattended?
Check the halls and rooms for the smell of dried urine and be aware of the many sprays that can cover the scent. Lavender is particularly effective, and pleasant, but it may be covering signs of neglect.
This, too, is easy. Share a meal or two with patients, both planned and unannounced. Some nursing homes are lucky enough to have chefs, not just cooks, who heat an institutional meal. (Savvy chefs may favor the regular hours, for the food is apt to be more appealing.)
Is there ample choice? For entrees? For vegetables and fruits? Does a nutritionist/dietician plan the meals to assure an emphasis on protein and the right kinds of fats and carbohydrates? Is there enough variety in vegetable offerings? Are foods well seasoned and do they appear appetizing?
Ask yourself: Is this a meal you would like to share and enjoy?
Touch is trickier but should give you an idea of how well the facility is cleaned, and how often. Maybe you don’t need to give a white glove test to check the surfaces, but no surface should feel sticky or tacky to the touch.
Then Trust Your Instincts
Having used all your senses, do remember to match needs to facility. Clearly the needs for 24-hour bed care are not the same as those of independent living residents.
Beyond the New York Times article and this 6th tip, you will also find checklists and other suggestions for finding a reliable nursing home on web sites run by the National Institute on Aging, AARP, and Medicare.gov, among others.
And there is a bottom line. After following all the tips, reading all the materials and making your visits, trust your instincts. If the place is not right, find another one.