Many steps help in choosing the right nursing home for a loved one, including studying its location, record, and affordability.

But nursing home visits often scrap the resulting priority list. For that reason, experts on elder care suggest visiting earlier.

Strategizing visits to potential nursing homes

It may not be possible to visit every home personally, especially if the decision is for a loved one in another state. In that case, a trusted friend or family member, well briefed on what to look for, may be able to help.

Most sources say two visits are a good minimum. The first can involve an appointment with staff like the home director, nursing director and therapy staff. Inaccessible management is often a red flag. A second, surprise visit offers contrasts in time of day, days of the week and staff on duty.

Asking questions and lots of them

Asking questions can show how open the home is to family members and how informed staff really is. Visitors should not be afraid to ask about anything that seems unusual or to follow up if anything comes up later. Also, while residents deserve their privacy, see if they or their families are open to questions.

You might ask:

  • How do residents attend religious services and community activities events they care about?
  • Is it possible to study a meal menu? (Ask yourself if the food looks appetizing.)
  • What kinds of therapy are available onsite?
  • How many residents is each CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) assigned during any one shift?
  • Are private spaces available, such as for time with family?

Trusting your gut about the overall impression

There is a good chance that if unannounced visitors feel good being there, a resident might too.

How open do residents and staff seem toward visitors and each other? Do administrators seem to know residents by name? Do any residents seem to be trying to get staff attention and, if so, how do staff respond? Is there an unpleasant smell? Are there any plants, carpeting, or lights other than overhead fluorescent lights?

If the home feels like a burden for the family to visit, it might feel burdensome for a resident to live there.