Choosing a Nursing Home


By Christine Mueller, Ph.D., R.N.

It’s never an easy decision to move a loved one to a nursing home. Watching someone lose their ability to live independently can be tough, and it is often overwhelming to figure out the best place for your spouse, parent, or other family member to live.

But being armed with information about how to evaluate the quality of a nursing home can only make the process easier for everyone.

Start by evaluating whether the nursing home is a place where someone would want to live. Does it have a pleasant environment and a feeling of home and comfort? Ask whether residents can have their own room and bring personal belongings and furniture from home. It makes facilities feel less institutional, too, if residents can help themselves to snacks and drinks from a refrigerator if they get hungry.

Staffing is a critical issue to evaluate. Find out if the same nurses and nursing assistants care for the same people on a consistent basis. That way the staff can get to know residents’ preferences and take better care of them. When you visit a nursing home, take a close look at the residents. Do they look clean and well groomed, and are they up and about? A good sign of whether a nursing home has enough staff is if residents’ call bells are answered quickly and you don’t hear people calling for help—their needs should be met in less than five minutes.

Also, check into how many registered and licensed nurses are on staff, in addition to the nursing assistants employed there. And observe how they treat residents. The staff should know seniors by name and treat them well, fostering good relationships with the people in their care.

Food is an important area to consider. First, make sure residents have some personal choice as to when they eat. Is dinner served precisely at 5:30 p.m., or is it offered between 5 and 6:30 p.m. so that residents can eat when they are hungry? Is it served family style or can residents get their meals fresh from a buffet? Also, look to see if there are enough staff members to help seniors eat if they need assistance.

In addition to the residents’ physical care, consider their holistic needs as well. Look to see if the nursing home has spiritual services, social services, and meaningful activities for residents beyond bingo and television. There should be activities planned to get seniors out of the building and into the world, as well as regular contact from the community through volunteers like 4-H groups or the Boy and Girl Scouts.

For more, go to, and look for the link “Compare Nursing Homes in Your Area” under the Search Tool section. You can review the state’s survey inspection reports and a facility’s records for sanitation, safety, staff ratios, and clinical care.

Once you have good information about your loved one’s new place to live, you’ll all feel a whole lot better.

Christine Mueller, Ph.D., R.N., is an associate professor of nursing at the University of Minnesota. She specializes in nursing care for older adults, nursing administration, and long-term care. This column is an educational service of the University of Minnesota. Advice presented should not take the place of an examination by a health-care professional. For more health-related information, go to