What to Look For When Touring a Nursing Home

“What to look for when touring a nursing home” is a common question for those faced with the important task of selecting the right care facility for themselves or their loved ones. We’ve put together this quick tip list, focusing on five essential question categories, to simplify your nursing home or skilled nursing care facility tour. These questions will help you navigate the process with confidence, ensuring that you choose a facility that has high standards of care. By trusting your senses and asking the right questions, you can identify potential nursing homes that prioritize quality and comfort. Let’s look at each category of what to look for in a nursing home. To dig a little deeper, download our comprehensive questions to ask nursing home checklist and review our Nursing Home Guide.

1. Evaluate the Care Facility Using Sight and Smell

Close-up of a neatly made bed with patterned linens in a bright nursing home room, with a blurred background featuring a healthcare worker and a wheelchair, suggesting a clean and cared-for environment. A key component of what to look for when touring a nursing home.

The first step as you work through this list of what to look for when touring a nursing home is to look for cleanliness and smell for strong odors.

  • Look at the floors. Are they shiny if tiled, and are they free from stains if carpeted?
  • Look at the furniture. Is it dirty and worn?
  • Look at the structure. Are the walls, doors, and fixtures in good repair?
  • Is the home well-lit?
  • Are there any strong, foul odors?
  • Are there overpowering “good-smelling” fragrances that could be masking or covering up foul odors?

2. Observe Staff Members and Their Interactions

A compassionate caregiver in blue scrubs gently assisting an elderly woman with white hair, both standing in a sunlit room with large windows, conveying a supportive atmosphere in a nursing home setting. A key component of what to look for when touring a nursing home.

Look and listen to observe the following:

  • Is the staff well-groomed and dressed professionally and appropriately?
  • How does the staff interact with patients and visitors?
  • How do staff members treat residents? Do they seem friendly, caring, patient, polite, and helpful?
  • How do they treat family members?
  • Do staff care providers seem happy?
  • Does the nursing home care staff seem to work well with each other?
  • Is the staff polite and courteous, or are they complaining to each other?
  • Is the interaction between management and the care staff positive?
  • How is the staff trained? Are aides certified nursing assistants (CNAs)?
  • Ask about staff turnover. Is turnover high?
  • When you ask questions, does management seem forthcoming, or are they hesitant to answer? Do they seem agitated or aggravated?

3. Observe Patients and Their Interactions

An engaging activity session in a nursing home with a smiling young caregiver in a pink top assisting residents with building block games, highlighting the lively and interactive environment for the elderly. A What to look for when touring a nursing home.

Look, listen, and smell to observe the following:

Note: Do not go into any patient’s room without the expressed permission of the patient and the staff. Please respect the privacy of nursing home residents.

  • Are the patients that you see groomed and clean? (shaven, nails trimmed, and dressed appropriately)
  • Do you smell any strong odors coming from the patients?
  • Do patients seem to be receiving attention from staff if needed?
  • Are the patients who are more active and socially involved in any activities?
  • Do they seem to be enjoying their interaction with staff?

4. Observe the Dining Area and Taste the Food

A joyful elderly woman with curly white hair, wearing an orange bib, enjoying mealtime in a wheelchair as a smiling nurse in blue scrubs provides assistance, illustrating the warm and attentive care in a nursing home dining area. What to look for when touring a nursing home.

Look, listen, smell, and taste to observe what is going on in the dining room and kitchen.

Tour the nursing home during mealtime and ask if you may dine. Do they offer a variety of healthy food choices? Look at and listen to how the staff interacts with the patients during mealtime. Food is one of the most important aspects of patient satisfaction. Look for a nursing home that treats this standard very seriously.

  • Is the food attractively served?
  • Is the food served at an appropriate temperature?
  • Is the food tasty?
  • Does the kitchen staff accommodate special food requests?
  • Do residents seem to like the types of food being served?
  • Does the facility provide enough staff to assist older adults who need help eating?
  • Ask if you can see the kitchen and speak to the dietitian.
  • Do residents seem to be enjoying their interactions with staff?

5. Evaluate Care Services Standards

A diverse team of nursing home staff, including two women in pink and green scrubs, a man in a white coat, and two women in blue, all smiling confidently in a well-lit corridor, representing professional and compassionate care. What to look for when touring a nursing home

When choosing a nursing home, care standards should be evaluated as they relate to both skilled care services and custodial care services.

Skilled Care Services

Skilled care, which involves medical services provided by trained professionals, is a key aspect of nursing home quality. To assist in evaluating this, Medicare offers a tool designed to help people determine the quality of care in nursing homes. The Medicare Nursing Home Compare website features a five-star rating system. This system evaluates over 15,000 nursing homes nationwide, providing insights into the quality of resident care and staffing information essential for understanding the level of skilled care provided.

Here are a few ways you can evaluate the facility’s standards for skilled care while you are on your tour:

  • Does the nursing home have a current license?
  • Does the administrator have a current license?
  • Is the nursing home Medicare-Medicaid certified?
  • What is the RN/LPN to patient ratio for day, evening, and night?
  • What is the nurse-aide-patient ratio for day, evening, and night?
  • Are there onsite therapy programs provided where patients are receiving therapy?
  • Does the nursing home have special programs for patients with special care needs, such as memory care or wound care? 
  • Is the staff specifically trained for this type of care?
  • Do you see any evidence of such programs and care taking place?

Custodial Care Services

Custodial care is the assistance provided to individuals with their daily activities. Evaluate custodial care effectively by focusing on the Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) of those receiving care. As laypeople, we can observe the effectiveness of this care through our senses—by seeing, hearing, and smelling the outcomes of the caregiver’s efforts in personal care services. Our sensory evaluation makes it easier to assess whether care is not only being provided but also administered correctly.

Long-term care, often referred to as custodial care, encompasses a wide range of services and support provided to individuals who need assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs) or instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs). This type of care is essential for people living with chronic illnesses, disabilities, or the effects of aging. Custodial care, a significant component of long term care, primarily focuses on helping individuals with daily tasks and ensuring their comfort and well-being over an extended period.

Make Decisions With Confidence

A tender moment between a woman visiting her parent in a nursing home, with the daughter in a denim shirt smiling lovingly at her mother who is wearing a white garment and a light blue headscarf, both radiating happiness and comfort. What to look for when touring a nursing home.

Your nursing home tour doesn’t have to be overwhelming. With these five essential question categories in mind, you can focus on the most important aspects of a facility. Remember to trust your instincts and seek answers to the questions that matter most to you and your loved ones. Follow this simple guide and be well-prepared to make an informed decision. With confidence, choose a nursing home that meets your loved one’s health care needs and your expectations for quality care and comfort.


Disclaimer: The content on this site is meant for general informational purposes and should not be considered professional advice. While we strive for accuracy, we recommend consulting experts for specific guidance. We are not responsible for any decisions made based on this information.

Liz Craven
Liz Craven

Liz Craven, co-publisher of Sage Aging ElderCare Guide alongside her husband Wes, brings a blend of personal experience and heartfelt dedication to her work. Their path in eldercare started with a family story — caring for Wes' grandmother, Mabel, who faced Alzheimer's. This personal chapter not only highlighted the complexities of eldercare but also ignited their passion to support others in similar situations. Later, Liz and Wes filled the caregiver role three more times for their parents. Through the Sage Aging ElderCare Guide, Liz offers a mix of empathetic insight and practical advice, making eldercare more approachable and less daunting for families. Her commitment shines through in every piece of advice, aiming to ease the journey for others as they navigate the world of eldercare.

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