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How to choose a nursing home for your parent with Alzheimer's

We know all too well that Alzheimer's is a disease that progresses to the point that the person suffering from it will no longer be able to live their life independently. They will need special care around the clock. Because patients lose their memory and cognitive ability at different rates, their care needs may change slowly or quickly. And because it can be hard to predict at what point they will need a certain type of care, choosing a nursing home that is capable of handling all stages of the disease is crucial to the wellbeing of your parent who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

Choosing a good place for your mother or father can also help put your own worries at ease. It can be heartbreaking enough knowing there will be a point when your parent may not be able to recognize you, so you want them to always feel like they are in good hands, regardless of whether the people who are caring for them are recognizable or not.

Here are things to look for when choosing a nursing home for your parent, as you visit your options:

  • How much do they allow families to get involved?
    You want to be involved in the care planning for your parent, and you also want to be informed of any changes that may impact your parent's living situation there. Is it easy to communicate with staff to get this information? Are they receptive to your questions, and do they seem transparent in answering them? Ask if care planning sessions are held regularly, and if family members can attend.
  • Are the staff appropriately trained to care for patients with Alzheimer's?
    Having Alzheimer's means your parent needs to stay in a Special Care Unit (SCU) designed to meet the specific needs of patients with Alzheimer's or other dementia diseases. This allows patients to be grouped together based on their needs, within a larger facility. Does the unit seem to be staffed appropriately? Are they offering both the physical help and emotional help your parent will need? Can they offer the medicines your parent may need in the future to help with paranoia, anxiety or insomnia? Learn about the policy around how often and at what dose staff typically administers these medicines.
  • Are there activities offered that you think your parent will enjoy?
    Ask to see an activity schedule, and if you are visiting at the time of the activity, check it out. Are there a number of activities available both weekdays and weekends? What about evenings? Are the activities helping meet certain needs, and are they interesting? Because Alzheimer's impacts the brain, it's helpful to have activities that stimulate your parent's mind to keep it as sharp as possible. It's also healthy for them to participate in activities that involve interaction with others.
  • Do the residents at the nursing home seem well cared for?
    Are residents groomed and dressed appropriately? Do they seem comfortable and mostly relaxed to be there? Obviously, depending on how much their Alzheimer's has progressed, not every resident will appear comfortable at every moment. Think about the overall picture --- is this a place that values caring for the patients?
  • Does the facility offer both open and closed spaces that would be appropriate depending on how far the Alzheimer's has progressed?
    In early to middle stages of Alzheimer's patients are most comfortable in open spaces. Later one in the late stages, patients enjoy more constrained areas. See if the nursing home offers both, and if both areas are appropriately staffed should the patients need something when they are in those areas.
  • Does the nursing home overall feel like a safe place for your parent to live?
    As Alzheimer's causes patients to become forgetful, and a patient may become aggressive or unruly, you want the nursing home to have enough staff and capabilities to monitor for these behaviors. Even if it seems the residents are safe by themselves for short periods of time, you want to make sure when patients are together that the risk of them hurting each other is low.
  • Does the nursing home participate in the Medicaid program?
    It is a myth that to qualify for Medicaid, you have to be extremely poor. Congress has reformed Medicaid so that middle class families may now qualify for the program. Even if your parent has substantial assets, he or she may still qualify. Look into Medicaid as it can help cover the cost of the nursing home, greatly reducing the financial implications on your family.

An experienced elder law attorney skilled in the areas of nursing home and Medicaid planning can help you plan for your parent, so that you start off on the right foot and have the resources you need to make an informed decision. Deciding what is best for your parent can be an overwhelming responsibility, and the legal help of an attorney can lighten the load.

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