One of the most important decisions you may be asked to make as a family caregiver is to choose an appropriate long-term care facility for your loved one. With this decision, you are not only selecting a safe and comfortable place in which your loved one will live, but also a team of health care professionals who will become your partners in care.

A male caregiver at a recent Fearless Caregiver Conference, stood up to speak and immediately burst into tears. He had placed his wife in an assisted living facility the day before and although he believed it to be the correct decision, was upset that he would no longer be involved in her care. Before I could say a word, five other family caregivers rushed to embrace him saying that, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. By selecting an appropriate facility, he had actually increased the capacity of her personal care team. He would now be able to focus on being her loving and dedicated spouse without the worry of keeping her safe from wandering or arguing about bathing, or even cajoling her to eat and take her medicines.

Before you choose a facility, it is important to consider some important points. The first thing to remember when evaluating any facility is to trust your own senses. Make certain you are comfortable that the facility’s residents are content and well cared for in clean and comfortable surroundings.

1. Conduct a “smell test”

Be concerned if the facility has a strong scent of urine or an overpowering disinfectant odor.

2. Ask questions

Speak to as many of the staff members and residents as possible. Get a sense of how the residents and workers feel about the facility. Do they enjoy living or working there?

3. Get candid answers

Discuss the facility with family members of current residents.

4. Pay attention

Look at how the staff treats the other residents. Your loved one will receive that same level of care.

5. Get the full picture

Visit at different times of day and evening to see what the facility is like at various hours.

6. Do the math

Ask about the ratio of staff-to-resident during the day, overnight and weekend time periods.

7. Learn the policies

Ask about the facility’s policy for holding a bed if your loved one must be hospitalized or temporarily go into a rehabilitation facility.

8. Read the contract

Ask to see a copy of the facility’s contract and read it carefully. You may want to consult with an attorney before signing a contract.

9. Check emergency preparedness

Ask to review the facility’s disaster and emergency plan, and find out how often is it updated. Does it include evacuation procedures?

Visit a few area facilities before making a choice. You are in charge of this important decision and should never feel pressured to choose any particular facility. You need to research, ask plenty of questions and, above all, trust your instincts.