Dr. Sally Brooks Dr. Sally Brooks

 

As Vice President of Physician and Medical Development for Kindred Healthcare’s Nursing Center Division, Dr. Sally Brooks is well versed in the challenges of caring for seniors. But when it came time to select a nursing center for her own parents, she found herself facing new challenges. She told her story recently in an article on caring.com, and here are some of the main points.

1. Be prepared to research – your first choice may not be available.

"Over the years I watched families being thrust suddenly into these decisions, so a couple of years before I moved my parents, I toured a few facilities and found one near my home," says Brooks. "However, my grand plan did not work perfectly, because when the time came to make the move, the facility I liked had no vacancies, so I still had to do research with the help of a social worker to find another place for them near me."

2. Have specific criteria in mind when visiting a center. 

Brooks' criteria for finding the perfect new home for her parents included three things: It had to be a few minutes from her home so she could be engaged with the facility staff on a regular basis and be able to see her parents more often. It had to accept the Medicaid waiver she had helped her parents secure to afford the long-term care they needed. And it had to accommodate each parent's special needs.

3. Stay involved after the move.

“You have to stay involved, whether it's checking in with them, planning extracurricular activities, etc. You cannot defer all the caregiving responsibilities to the facility staff," she advises. Brooks also found that if you just ask, friends, neighbors and colleagues will be helpful – volunteering to drop off a meal for your family because you have to be with your parents, for example, or responding to questions about how to handle a healthcare dilemma.

4. When choosing a center, look beyond outward appearances.

Thanks in part to her background in healthcare, Brooks doesn't place great emphasis on appearances, such as beautiful grounds, a nice dining room, and a full calendar of social activities. Instead, she knew to look for essentials, such as therapy for her mom and dad and secured doors in the dementia care unit to prohibit residents from wandering. Asking families of residents who have received care there is also very telling. She also checked the facility's quality rating from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), realizing that you need several sources to validate the care quality.

5. Remember: There is always more to learn.

What Brooks learned through her experience is that caring for older parents is like caring for children who go to school or college – no matter how much you think you know, there is still much to learn.

"Many caregivers feel guilty when they move their parent into a facility," says Brooks. "But the reality is that you might be a better caregiver for making that decision. If you're trying to care for a parent at home yourself, you never get that break, and it can impact your ability to be the best caregiver you can be.”