“You’ll know when the time has come,” a friend wisely counselled. And she was right. For months I had worried long distance about my mother, reluctant to face the reality that she was getting old and confused. Progressively she was not coping well with living on her own; with living without my father.

Putting her in a nursing home was the last thing I ever wanted to do. It seemed so final, so rejecting. It marked the end of an era. But I also knew that placing my mother in a home was for the best – for all of us.

This was entering new territory – where do you start and how do you find quality care? A short respite stay in a home, fuelled my mother with the questions to ask. She knew more than I about what to look for and what, more to the point, to avoid. Here are some lessons I learned:

Involve the senior

If possible, involve the senior in the selection process. Ask them what they would like. Do they want to live in a small, ten-bed home or a larger one? What about location? Is being near friends important?

Where possible, I took my mother with me to visit each home. Some she instantly disliked. There was no way she could have tolerated the old boy playing (read thumping) the piano every day. In another, the stairs and chair lift seemed daunting to her.

Do your homework

Find out which homes have spaces. The demand for nursing home beds is great, as is the cost in some areas. Check out the waiting list. Sometimes you can arrange a short respite stay.

Ask questions

What are the rates and who do they include? Hairdressing, chiropody, newspapers are usually extra. Is there 24-nursing care? How often does the doctor visit? What is the ratio of staff to residents? How many residents are there? Is there an activity program? Can they have a drink, have pets in their room? What about special diets? How often are the rooms cleaned? Can a telephone be installed in the room? Is there an expectation that you will arrange and pay for extra nursing care?

Think about what is important to your family member, and find out if it is available on site or can be arranged.

Visit the homes

Make a visit to each home. Draw on all your observational skills.

Staff – How well does the staff interact with the residents? Are they treating them with respect? How quickly do they respond to the residents?

Residents – How high-functioning are the other residents? This is particularly important if your senior is looking for companionship. What about noise level? Throughout a visit to one home, one of the residents shouted constant obscenities at the nurses. Is this something that would upset your family member or is she hard of hearing and therefore unlikely to be bothered.

Hygiene – How clean are the facilities? Where are meals served? How often do residents have a bath or shower? A vital question for my mother based on her previous experience where it was only once a week.

Nutrition – Ask about meals. Are they varied and nutritionally balanced? Can the residents have fruit or snacks in their room?

Atmosphere – Does the residence seem clinical or is there a warm atmosphere? Check if residents can bring in a few pieces of furniture or furnishings from home.

Check your finances

Living in a nursing home is not cheap. Work out a budget before you make the final decision. You may find that subsidized rates are available, depending on income.

Plan ahead

Move furniture, furnishings, clothes ahead of time so that when your family member actually moves in, it seems more like home. There is comfort in having your own things around you.

Keep in touch

To allay fears of being abandoned and forgotten, encourage family, friends and neighbours to keep in touch. Most nursing homes have visiting times and taking residents out for lunch, health permitting, can provide an enjoyable break.

Allow time for transition

Routine is important to the elderly. Allow time for the senior to develop a new routine, to feel comfortable in the new setting. Expect some grumbling.

In the time that my mother was in a nursing home, neither of us regretted the decision or the choice we made. And while it seemed like the end of an era, in reality, our roles reversed and we entered a new phase in our relationship.

Anne Day

Anne Day

Company of Women

I have had an eclectic career from running non-profit organizations and being editor of a national magazine, to working for government on women’s issues. In 2003 I launched Company of Women, an organization that supports women in business. A prolific blogger, I also write for the Huffington Post, and several other online publications. I am the author of five books on women and entrepreneurship, and co-author of Good Enough. Embrace who you are. Unleash your brilliance. which is available on amazon.ca In June, 2016 I launched Full Circle Publishing offering one-stop services to get your words out into the world.