It's a fairly safe assumption that, whether for yourself, a loved one or a dear friend, there is likely to be a nursing home somewhere in your future. Currently, there are more than 1.5 million nursing home patients across the country, not to mention the countless family members -- often several generations -- and friends for whom frequent visits to a nursing home are a way of life.
As the huge baby boomer population continues to age over the coming decades, those numbers will increase dramatically. Today, people of any age who need extended health care have access to a wealth of alternatives. However, because of the level of care required, there are times when a nursing home becomes the most practical option. In fact, two out of every five Americans will require nursing home care at some point in their lives.
A nursing home is more than just a residence that provides a room, meals and recreational activities. It is licensed to meet an individual's ongoing needs for rehabilitation, around-the-clock medical care or supervision, or simply assistance with daily living. Equally important, a nursing home truly is a patient's "home," whether for a few months, a year or longer. Industry leader Beverly Healthcare suggests there are key factors that can make choosing the right nursing home easier for the patient and family members alike.
Once the patient's specific needs are determined, your doctor can usually recommend quality nursing homes in your area. Friends and neighbors can also be valuable resources. Contact the local affiliate of the American Health Care Association, as well as health departments and agencies on aging. In addition, each state has a long-term care ombudsman, a patient advocate who can provide information to help you make this important decision.
The closer to your home, the more frequently you will be able to visit. Consider proximity to hospitals and the patient's personal physician, as well. Narrow your list to two or three nursing homes, and tour each at least once.
When visiting, notice if the caregiving team treats patients and family members with warmth and respect, and if requests for assistance are answered promptly. Make sure the level of cleanliness meets your personal standards. Ask about the types of individual and group activities offered and discuss specific dietary needs if necessary. This is also the time to verify the nursing home has access to any additional therapeutic services your loved one may require.
Personal concerns aside, the cost is understandably one of your most important considerations. Licensed nursing homes are required to inform you of all services and fees in writing. In addition, each state has an Insurance Counseling and Assistance program. Its counselors can help you determine if you qualify for Medicare or Medicaid, if some or all of the cost is covered by a managed care plan or employer benefit package, and how to pay for any care that is not covered.
When possible, including the patient in the selection process will help ensure a successful transition to the new environment. According to a survey sponsored by Beverly Healthcare and conducted by Yankelovich Partners, quality of life is vitally important to patients -- it is ranked with quality of care as the two most desirable features Americans look for in a nursing home. Keep in mind, too, that you are an important part of your loved one's caregiving team. Commit to regular visits, and encourage other family members and friends to do the same.