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Visiting older loved ones in aged care facilities — what to look for

Do you know what to look for?

It’s always good to see someone close after a long time apart. [Source: Shutterstock]

It’s always good to see someone close after a long time apart. [Source: Shutterstock]

Penned by guest contributor John Francis


You have passed the acid test: you have researched the senior living options, taken the tours to survey aged care homes and selected the best to suit you and your older loved one. Finally — they have transitioned to an aged care home, taking over the emotional storm.

However, your responsibility does not end with moving your loved one to an aged care home, just as theirs did not end with bringing you into this world or sending you to a school.

It’s a commitment for the remaining years of their life and you have to make them as good as they can be. For, we do not live in a perfect world and cases of neglect or abuse of the vulnerable are not unheard of.

Now, you have to take on the role of their advocate — visit them regularly and follow up to decide if your chosen aged care home lives up to your expectations. During your research tours as prospective clients, you were taken on carefully guided excursions and your exposure to the community and staff was limited. After the move, you can continue to monitor your loved one’s care to ensure that they are content, comfortable and well taken care of. 

When you visit your loved ones in aged care, you may be more focused on spending quality time with them and attending to their needs. However, you must keep an eye out for how well the aged care home is functioning and whether the staff are meeting the immediate needs of those closest to you. Although clean and pleasant surroundings are desirable and indicative of good functioning, you must watch out for the overall vibes of the facility.

Is there an atmosphere of happiness and optimism making you feel comfortable or is it rigid and formal, making it heavy and unwelcoming? This atmosphere depends largely upon the behaviour of staff members and their interactions with the care recipients, visitors and with each other.

Employee satisfaction and monitoring have a significant influence on these equations, as well. Visiting frequently and at different times of the day will give you realistic glimpses of the staff members’ attitudes and how they handle routine tasks, extra-busy times and emergencies. Seeing them at their best and worst will help you make an accurate assessment of the facility. If you feel positive about the atmosphere and the staff, in all probability, your loved one is receiving quality hands-on care and personal interaction.

What to look for on your visit to an aged care facility

  • Feel welcome whenever you, your family members and friends visit — especially at an unexpected time, such as after Saturday night dinner


  • Be alert to any changes in mood, personality, sleeping or eating habits, along with physical activity and investigate if your loved one seems fearful, depressed or lethargic


  • Take immediate action and talk to the unit supervisor or head nurse, in case of distress


  • Investigate any major financial changes in their accounts, such as unexpectedly large withdrawals


  • Watch out for any persistent smell of urine or ammonia: a sign of neglect and unhygienic conditions


  • Employees take the time to connect with each older person they interact with


  • Frequent eye contact between staff members and the residents, as fear or avoidance are negative signs indicating a strained or abusive relationship


  • Appropriately dressed, personable and outgoing staff members are friendly to you during visits


  • Quick response times of staff, to inform you — either in-person or by phone — of changes in your loved one’s health


  • Any issues with your loved one’s medications since moving in, such as timing, regimen changes or reactions


  • Your loved one’s hygiene:  whether they look presentable, are bathed frequently, wear clean clothes, have washed hair and trimmed nails


  • In the case of an incontinent loved one, how often do you arrive for a visit and find that they need to be changed? How long does it take for an aide to handle this task? Enquire gently and discretely about any skin problems or urinary tract infections, known as UTIs, associated with incontinence care that your loved one may be experiencing


  • The condition of their room: whether it is clean and fresh, well maintained or cluttered and has any foul smells


  • Quality of food: whether it is fresh and nutritious with a varied menu, adequate portions, etc


  • Your loved one’s opinion of the menu options, because refusal to eat and weight loss are indicators that the food quality and selection are lacking — if possible, attend a meal with them


  • Whether there is a dietician or nutrition specialist on-call to oversee menu selections and residents’ dietary restrictions


  • Flexibility to residents in choosing the frequency of meals; when and where they take their meals — as with the increase in age, your loved one may become finicky when it comes to eating


  • Availability of rooms for residents and their families to reserve for private gatherings


  • Whether the activities calendar is filled and includes a variety of hobbies or social opportunities that are appropriate for residents of all ages and abilities


  • Options for residents to keep them active and engaged, encouraging them to familiarise themselves with their new home and neighbours


  • Celebration of birthdays, holidays and other important events to include residents and their visitors


  • Whether the residents are encouraged to be independent, within reason, as comfortably as possible or they are being neglected in the name of independence


  • Most importantly — watch out for any signs of neglect or abuse, such as injuries, bruises, bed sores, etc. 


Encourage your loved one to confide without fear of retribution, reassuring them that they will not come to any harm. This will enable you to take any immediate corrective actions and change the facility before it’s too late.

Chances are that you have already considered the basic quality indicators like licensing inspections, health department ratings, staffing ratios and complaints, before moving your loved one into the aged care home. Although this information is useful, visiting in-person gives you a complete picture of the quality of life of your loved one at an aged care home.

These minor issues can only be observed in-person and these small things can add up to indicate the overall quality of care provided. Your frequent visits and attention to your loved one’s health and interaction with the staff will not only dissipate any sense of abandonment that your senior may harbour, but also show them that you love them.

For more great user contributions or to share your own story, please get in touch with the team at Talking Aged Care. Subscribe to the Talking Aged Care newsletter for more amazing content and keep up to date with industry news.


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