Body, Mind and Soul

Are you in the market for a skilled nursing facility for a loved one? Here are some questions to ask to ensure you make the right choice.

By: Amie Daniel

Selecting the right short-term or long-term care facility for your loved one is crucial and can be a daunting task during an already emotionally heightened time in your family’s life. Knowing your loved one is getting the best care possible can relieve a large amount of stress on the family.

Unfortunately, most families have to make a swift decision about their loved one’s new home and long-term care plan because of a sudden downward turn in their health. Here are some questions to consider asking when touring a skilled nursing facility to be sure you are selecting the right place for your loved one.

What’s for dinner?
Your loved one’s nutrition is one of the most important aspects of their care plan. Yes, they may be on a variety of medications to assist with high blood pressure or diabetes, but their daily diet is really the foundation to their long-term health of a long life or even a speedy recovery of an illness. Ask to speak to the dietician director on staff, and know what your loved-one’s nutritional plan should be from their primary care physician before visiting the facility.

Ask specifics about whether the facility can make special exceptions for your loved one if they should be admitted to the facility. Also inquire about the food choices the residents have throughout their stay. The more variety your loved one has to choose from, the more likely to they will be to eat and get the nutrition they need. You may even go as far as having lunch at the facility with some of the staff before making a final decision.

Does it smell like “home sweet home”?
Nursing homes can foster some funky odors, and there are some unavoidable reasons for this. Unfortunately, certain medications and diets make the residents gassier, but also as people age, they’re more likely to lose control of their bladder and bowels. On top of that, skilled nursing facilities have a constant uphill battle with fighting those odors, too. There are only a handful of cleaners that nursing homes can use due to the protection of the residents mandated by law.

However, if the facility reeks of stale urine, it could be a sign that the facility is not being cleaned properly. So a faint whiff of something unpleasant isn’t something to complain about. Always inquire about the nursing staff’s procedure for checking on the their residents, specifically pertaining to your loved one’s situation if it involves assistance with bathroom activities.

It’s not uncommon to tour a nursing home and hear yelling and screaming. It can be very alarming to most visitors when it sounds like the residents in the facility are hurt or being mistreated. However, moaning and yelling might be unsettling, but that is rarely a sign of poor treatment. Many residents have an impairment known as dementia. Symptoms often range from short-term memory, irregular communication skills and a decrease in cognitive thinking that will drastically affect their function of daily activities.

Instead of focusing on the resident, listen for how staff members address these residents. Look for signs of empathy, patience and respect toward the resident. The staff should be calling the resident by their name or addressing them by their last name in a calm and soothing matter.

There are many levels of dementia, and every person is very different in how it affects them. Ask the nursing home staff if they work on detailed plans with their team of nurses and the physicians to implement a positive environment for each patient/resident. Getting to know the patient’s previous lifestyle, hobbies, profession and personal beliefs can go a long way in soothing a dementia patient. It can be as simple as providing a familiar hobby or routine activity to put them at ease.

Is it all fun and games?
If and when you tour a skilled nursing facility, expect to see residents circling around the nurses station, hanging out at the front lobby, watching TV in the common area or sitting out on the patio. This is a very good sign that the residents are not tucked away in their rooms with no one around them. A quality nursing home is going to have a daily calendar of activities in which your loved one can participate. The body, mind and soul are all equally important. There should be a variety of activities that cater to all levels of their mental and physical capabilities, so that there is something for everyone.

Try to schedule your tour around the time the facility will be having an activity, and observe the way that the residents and staff interact. You certainly don’t need to be an expert to pick up on the “vibe” of the facility; just listen to your gut instinct. Ask the facility for a copy of their activities calendar and their monthly newsletter. Both tools are a quick read and can also give you a great insight on the overall environment. Specifically look to see if the facility is reiterating the message that the doors are open at all times for family members to stop in or participate in a variety of activities, contests and special events throughout the year.

Be sure to also visit to find out the facility’s ranking. Their extensive process with a five-star approach not only ranks the nursing home overall, but also categorizes different areas that include the aforementioned topics mentioned.

Amie Daniel is the marketing director for the five-star Medicare ranked facility, Hacienda Oaks Nursing & Rehabilitation, in Beeville, Texas. For more information, call 361-205-9677, email or visit  

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