Questions to Ask about Senior Care Routines andQuestions to Ask about Senior Care Routines and Updates Updates

When I recently asked a group of people what they wish they’d known when they started looking for senior care for their parents, I heard a lot about the importance of daily schedules and communication. Finding a nursing home or assisted living facility with a schedule your parents like—and one that will keep you updated about your parents’ wellbeing—is easier if you ask these questions at each community you visit.

What does a typical day look like?

When you’re seriously considering a community, you’ll want to get answers to very specific questions about daily routines to make sure they’ll be a good fit for your parents. Among the things to ask:

  • Can residents start their day at a time of their choice?
  • What’s the meal service schedule?
  • Are there snacks available outside regular mealtimes?
  • Are there daily fitness and social activities?
  • Is lights-out a fixed time or do residents have a choice?

If the staff will remind your parents of their medication schedule or administer their meds, who oversees that schedule and ensures it’s followed?

When can family and friends visit?

Are there set visiting hours and if so, what are they? Do visiting hours change on weekends, holidays, and residents’ birthdays? Note that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid spell out rules for certified facilities, including the rights of nursing home patients to “have visitors at any time, as long as you want to see them, and as long as the visit doesn’t interfere with the provision of care and privacy rights of other residents.”

Can your parents’ visitors join them in the dining room for meals? Are there private areas outside resident rooms where residents and family members can gather for social visits like birthday parties? Are visitors allowed to take residents out for the day or for overnight visits, and if so, what’s the process for notifying the community staff? CMS says that residents in certified communities can leave for short visits with doctor approval. The agency recommends coordinating with the home staff a few days in advance.

How are family members kept informed?

Will the nursing home or assisted living community’s staff give you regular updates? If so, how often, and what information will they share? If you have new information about your parents’ care to share with the staff, whom should you contact?

What are the circumstances in which the staff will contact you? CMS requires certified nursing homes to contact your parents’ doctor and you or another selected family member if your parent:

  • Has an accident or injury
  • Has a health or mental condition that gets worse
  • Develops a life-threatening health problem or medical complications
  • Needs a major change in treatment

If the nursing home intends to transfer your parents to another facility or discharge them, the home must first contact your doctor and you or another family member chosen by your parents.

Other routine and communication questions you may want to ask include:

  • What’s the housekeeping and laundry schedule?
  • Are there special events for residents’ birthdays?
  • Are there holiday celebrations?
  • How often are excursions planned to local shops and attractions?
  • If there’s a chapel onsite, when is it open to residents for private contemplation and when are worship services held?
  • Does a beautician regularly visit the community, and if so, how can your parents book appointments?

This is a long list of questions, but the answers can help you find the best possible match with your folks’ wants and needs. You can download detailed checklists to help you select a nursing home or an assisted living community at

Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelance writer whose childhood was made awesome by her grandmothers, great-grandmother, great-aunts and -uncles, and their friends.


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