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Choosing the right nursing home for a loved relative

It's something no one wants to think about. But, the time will come when almost everyone will have to move their parents or grandparents into an assisted care facility or a nursing home.

A nursing home usually has bedrooms that may be shared or private, and common spaces for eating and activities. Assisted-care facilities often allow for a bit more independence, sometimes offering private apartments for spouses or individuals that include private living and dining rooms. Both fall under the category of "nursing home" because there is typically 24-hour medical help available.

Choosing the right home for a mother, father or other family member can be emotionally taxing. It is often difficult to acknowledge that a child can no longer provide care for an aging relative, and nursing homes can be expensive.

States license nursing homes and monitor them to ensure they comply with the law. Before visiting a facility, a person can find out if the home had any violations of health and safety codes by consulting associations like the AARP ( Visit the home at different times of the day, unannounced. The staff should never prevent you from examining nursing home conditions. Below are some aspects of a home that anyone will want to check out before making a decision:

•Talk to residents. Try to judge whether residents are clean, well-fed and generally in good spirits. Ask how they like living there. Eat a meal in the dining room and look at a weekly menu.

•Closely examine the environment. Make sure the bedrooms and common areas are tidy and nicely decorated. Let the nose be the guide. If it detects foul smells, the home may be poorly maintained.

•Speak with the administration and staff. Talk to employees to confirm that they are friendly, helpful and attentive. By visiting at different times of day, a person can make sure the facility is well staffed. Find out how many staffers are Certified Nursing Assistants (CNA), aides who work with nurses and provide assistance with daily living tasks, reporting on patient well-being to nurses. There should be at least one CNA for every five to eight residents, and more if a large portion of the residents are disabled.

•Discuss options for those with special needs. Even if a loved one is self-sufficient now, plan for the future by choosing a home with facilities for special needs. Many residents need help at mealtime, and there should be a separate dining room where workers help those people eat. Residents too weak to get out of bed should be personally assisted by a staff member. If food trays are simply dropped off with residents, the home is doing an inadequate job.

•Ask about cost. Some nursing home residents pay for nursing home costs out of pocket, while others require government assistance to cover the payments. If a loved one's care requires financial assistance, check to make sure that the facility has all of its beds covered by Medicaid.

•Taking the time to carefully select a nursing home can make all the difference. Finding the right home ensures the comfort of loved ones in their later years and will bring the family peace of mind as well.

Looking at long term care

Most people envision themselves as young and healthy. No one wants to think that someday they may be unable to eat, bathe or get dressed on their own, or that they could have a disesase like Alzheimer's. Long-term care is what a person would need to help them perform daily activities if they had an ongoing illness or disability. One may be in their home, an assisted living facility or a nursing home. In fact, about 60 percent of people who reach 65 will need long-term care at some point.

But of course, it comes with a price. According to the Federal Long-term Care Insurance Program, the average nursing home stay is 2.6 years and the national annual cost of a semi-private room is $52,000. Nursing home costs go up about 5 percent each year. By the year 2030, they are estimated to reach nearly $200,000.

So who will pay for it? A persons adult children may be financially unable. Medicare covers only a limited amount of care after a hospital stay, and Medicaid will apply only when savings run out. Health insurance covers medical care for illness, injuries or hospital stays. Disability insurance replaces only the income a person loses if they can't work after an accident or injury.

However, there is help available. Long-term care insurance can cover the cost of this care and protect an individuals assets. Once one qualifies, They'll remain eligible as long as they pay their premiums. Apply as soon as possible; the premium is based on the age when a person gets the insurance, and it usually stays at that rate. In most cases, one cannot qualify for long-term care insurance if they are already ill. Remember -- long-term care insurance claims may be paid 10 or 20 years after the policy is written. That's why it's a good idea to choose a stable insurance company with a history of writing long-term care policies. Check with ratings services before making a choice. When shopping around, look for a policy that can be customized with the right combination of benefits for the individual. Some of these include the following.

•Location of care: in the person's home, in a nursing home, in an adult day center or in an assisted living facility

•Type of care: skilled nursing care, custodial care, home health aides

•Options for benefits (pay monthly or daily) and length of coverage

•Flexibility in applying benefits

•The number of days that a person pays before a policy benefits begins, (ranging from 30 to 365 days)

•Coverage of mental illness such as Alzheimer's

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